The Advanced Supersonic Parachute designed to land a future NASA spacecraft on Mars just underwent a key test high up in Earth’s skies. The test was meant to mimic the conditions that a spacecraft would experience during a red planet entry, descent and landing (EDL), ‘Space.com’ reported.
The Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) which was delayed for several days due to rough seas at the parachute’s recovery zone in the Atlantic Ocean was finally launched atop a sounding rocket Saturday, march 31 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 12:19 p.m. EDT.
It all went successfully, the 58-foot-tall Terrier-Black Brant IX rocket carried ASPIRE to a maximum altitude of 32 miles. Shortly after the parachute unfurled while ASPIRE was travelling significantly faster than the speed of sound, it splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean, from where it will be retrieved by boat.
Analysis of the recovered parachute, and data gathered by cameras and other instruments, will help researchers complete the design of the chute for Nasa’s 2020 Mars rover which will hunt for the signs of ancient life on Red Planet. The six-wheeled vehicle, whose body is based heavily on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, will study rocks on site and cache samples for eventual return to Earth.
ASPIRE now has two test flights under its belt. The first one occurred in October 217, also aboard a Terrier-Black Brant IX that launched from Wallops. On that earlier occasion, the chute unfurled at an altitude of 26 miles while ASPIRE was travelling at 1.8 times the speed of sound, NASA officials have said.