NASA and ESA Test Their High-Tech Mars Parachutes For Upcoming Martian Missions

Sunday, 01 April 2018 - 12:14PM
Space
NASA
ESA
Sunday, 01 April 2018 - 12:14PM
NASA and ESA Test Their High-Tech Mars Parachutes For Upcoming Martian Missions
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NASA
We're about to see a lot more Mars missions in the next few years, as space agencies and companies around the world prepare for the eventual mission when humans first land on the Red Planet (although that's more than just a few years away).

But for the unmanned missions in the works, making sure they land without breaking into pieces all over Mars' surface is important. Seemingly by coincidence, a number of fancy Mars parachute tests took place over this past week, including a supersonic parachute from NASA.

Called the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment, or "ASPIRE" since NASA loves its acronyms, the supersonic parachute was launched on a sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in conditions designed to mimic those found on Mars. It's a quick launch, but you can see it below:



While NASA's next Mars mission is the upcoming InSight lander which will study the planet's inner workings, ASPIRE will launch with the Mars 2020 rover, the high-tech successor to previous rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity. That will launch in (no points for guessing) 2020, with the goal of studying Martian rocks and looking for signs of possible alien life, and it's very important that it doesn't crash into the surface without a parachute.

But a similar launch from the European Space Agency (ESA) is perhaps more interesting. They also tested out a Mars parachute, for use on a Mars rover that will launch in 2020 - the ExoMars mission, which will drill beneath the surface of Mars to look for signs of life. But this one is much bigger, and will in fact be the largest parachute to ever be used in a Mars mission.

This parachute has a diameter of about 115 feet (35 meters) and weighs about 430 pounds (195 kilograms), and instead being launched on a rocket, it was dropped from a helicopter in Kiruna, Sweden during sub-zero conditions, complete with a GoPro camera attached. You can see that test below in footage released by the ESA:



It's important that they get this one right, because the previous ExoMars lander failed precisely because it wasn't equipped to land in Mars' harsh conditions and crashed-landed onto the surface. It's very important that the new lander performs better, and it would be terrible if it failed for the exact same reasons.

Parachutes might not sound very fancy, but they're the last thing you want to fail when you're landing someplace. Especially Mars.

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