Ground tests designed to validate the deployment of the parachutes that will be used on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars lander next year have started well at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission consists of the UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover, which will look for signs of past or present life, and the Russian Kazachok surface platform, which will monitor the local environment at the landing site.
The parachutes are essential in helping slow down the spacecraft from 21,000km/h at the top of the planet’s thin atmosphere, to virtually nothing six minutes later, when it touches down on the Martian soil. In tests earlier this year, the parachutes sustained damage during deployment. This was traced to the parachute bag in which they were held before being deployed.
Working with Nasa, ESA made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bag, which avoids creating so much friction. Using a special rig at JPL, the parachutes have now been tested up to their expected extraction speed of just over 200km/h with no sign of damage. Further confirmatory tests will now take place.
If all goes well, ExoMars 2020 will launch to the red planet sometime between 26 July and 11 August 2020.