NASA has created a world record with its “supersonic parachute” for the Mars 2020 mission that survived 37,000 kg load and was deployed in just four-tenths of a second – twice the speed of sound.
Less than two minutes after the launch of a 58-foot-tall (17.7-metre) Black Brant IX sounding rocket on September 7, a payload separated and began its dive back through Earth’s atmosphere, the US space agency said in a statement late Monday.
When onboard sensors determined the payload had reached the appropriate height and Mach number, the payload deployed a parachute made of nylon, Technora and Kevlar fibres.
Within four-tenths of a second, the 180-pound parachute billowed out from being a solid cylinder to being fully inflated.
“It was the fastest inflation in history of a parachute this size and created a peak load of almost 70,000 pounds (37,000 kg) of force,” said NASA.
It was the third and final test flight of the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) project that conducted a series of sounding rocket tests to help decide which parachute design to use on the Mars 2020 mission.
“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 John McNamee, project manager of Mars 2020 at JPL.
“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,” he added.
The 37,000-kg load was the highest ever survived by a supersonic parachute.
That’s about an 85-per cent higher load than what scientists would expect the Mars 2020 parachute to encounter during its deployment in Mars’ atmosphere.