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More parachute problems for ExoMars 2020?

Space is hard: Eric Berger at Ars Technica reported yesterday that the parachute issues for Europe’s ExoMars 2020 mission are far more serious that publicly announced.

The project has had two parachute failures during test flights in May and then August. However,

The problems with the parachutes may be worse than has publicly been reported, however. Ars has learned of at least one other parachute failure during testing of the ExoMars lander. Moreover, the agency has yet to conduct even a single successful test of the parachute canopy that is supposed to deploy at supersonic speeds, higher in the Martian atmosphere.

Repeated efforts to get comments from the project about this issue have gone unanswered.

Their launch window opens in July 2020, only about ten months from now. This is very little time to redesign and test a parachute design. Furthermore, they will only begin the assembly of the spacecraft at the end of this year, which is very very late in the game.

When the August test failure was confirmed, I predicted that there is a 50-50 chance they will launch in 2020. The lack of response from the project above makes me now think that their chances have further dropped, to less than 25%.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Richard M

    Sadly, I think we are at the point, as one engineer observed to me yesterday, that we should be surprised if ExoMars is NOT delayed until the 2022 launch window.

    It is frustrating, given the great science potential of this mission. But given how difficult it would be to replace this hardware, it’s better to be safe than sorry – especially given the lack of a successful track record by either ESA or Roscosmos in landing probes on the Martian surface. Make sure you’ve really, really got the parachute problem licked, and then try it. A two year delay beats the creation of another expensive impact crater on Mars.

  • MDN

    Why on earth don’t they consult with NASA for help? We have landed a string of about 6 or 8 missions successfully, and while I’m sure there are differences in the flight profile, weight, trajectory, or whatever that make Copy Exact an unlikely possibility, surely they could modify a known good design more easily than trying to invent their own. Alas, pride will likely override logic and the mission will push to 2022 as you project. Sad.

  • Edward

    MDN asked: “Why on earth don’t they consult with NASA for help?

    NASA may not be as much help as it may seem. The lander is about twice the mass as NASA’s Curiosity and Mars 2020 rovers, so NASA’s parachute designs and experiences may not be sufficient to provide much assistance for ExoMars 2020. NASA’s previous landers were even lighter.

    We have only a little experience with parachutes that open in atmospheric conditions that resemble the stratosphere, and these are the conditions that are encountered on Mars. ESA is exploring new territory with these parachutes. We have long understood that we would have different landing systems for heavier and heavier Mars landers. The challenges only increase with increased weight.

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