It should go without saying, but sending a rover to Mars is a challenging endeavor. Lots of things have to go perfectly right in order to pull it off, and one thing that can’t be overlooked is the parachute. Once the spacecraft reaches the planet and begins plunging towards the surface, slowing it all down becomes the top priority, and that’s a tall order when the rover itself weighs over 2,300 pounds.
Recently, NASA tested different parachute candidates, one of which will eventually give the Mars 2020 mission a nice soft landing on the Martian surface. It was called the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE), and it broke a world record.
“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,” JPL’s John McNamee said in a statement. “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.”
During the testing, the team watched as one of their parachutes successfully deployed and slowed the descent of the test payload. The chute was subjected to 67,000 pounds of force, which is 85 percent more than the chute will have to endure on Mars. That test ended up being the record breaker and the parachute’s success is now in the record books.
The test was a huge success, and NASA is confident in its ability to give the Mars 2020 lander a gentle trip from entry to touchdown. The Mars 2020 launch is just around the corner, and is currently slated to take place in July of 2020. Not long after that, we’ll know whether the ultra-strong parachute holds up its end of the deal, but it’s looking good so far.