Final ASPIRE test certifies Mars 2020 parachute
NASA successfully tested a supersonic parachute high in Earth’s atmosphere to simulate deployment in the much-thinner Martian atmosphere. Designed for the Mars 2020 mission, it was the fastest parachute inflation of this size in history with a peak load force of 70,000 pounds, NASA said.
The Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) was developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. The third and final test of the ASPIRE project occurred Sept. 7, 2018, confirming the parachute is “certified for flight at Mars.”
Launched atop a 58-foot (17.7-meter) tall, two-stage Black Brant 9 sounding rocket, the parachute was tucked in a bullet-nosed, cylindrical structure along with its deployment mechanism and the test’s high-definition instrumentation—including cameras—to record data.
“Mars 2020 will be carrying the heaviest payload yet to the surface of Mars, and like all our prior Mars missions, we only have one parachute and it has to work,” said Mars 2020 mission Project Manager John McNamee in a NASA news release. “The ASPIRE tests have shown in remarkable detail how our parachute will react when it is first deployed into a supersonic flow high above Mars. And let me tell you, it looks beautiful.”
Three separate test launches (one Oct. 9, 2017, April 20, 2018, and Sept. 7, 2018) determined which parachute design would be used for the Mars 2020 mission. In 2012, a similar parachute concept was used for the Curiosity rover mission.
For this test, NASA said the parachute, which was made of nylon, Kevlar and Technora fibers, was packed into a “small drum-sized bag” before being launched to an altitude of about 23 miles (37 kilometers) and a speed of about Mach 1.8. Then, within less than a half-second, the 180-pound parachute was deployed and fully inflated with a volume of “a large house.”
“Earth’s atmosphere near the surface is much denser than that near the Martian surface, by about 100 times,” said Ian Clark, the test’s technical lead from JPL. “But high up – around 23 miles (37 kilometers) – the atmospheric density on Earth is very similar to 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Mars, which happens to be the altitude that Mars 2020 will deploy its parachute.”
The Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to launch in July of 2020 with a scheduled landing in February 2021. The mission aims to seek signs of ancient Martian life by investigating evidence on the Red Planet and by caching drilled samples of Martian rocks for potential future return to Earth by another mission.
Video courtesy of JPL
Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.