The European Space Agency is making progress in its Mars missions – for the first time, it has put one of its ExoMars landing parachutes to the test.
The parachute was deployed from a helicopter less than one mile above the ground, but it had a successful descent that is a major step forward for the missions, Engadget reports. This test run focused on the Mars project’s second main parachute, which is the largest that will ever fly on a Mars mission at 115 feet in diameter.
This parachute is also one of the two devices designed to safely deliver the ExoMars rover and science platform to the surface of Mars in 2021. The parachute is 154 pounds heavy and has three miles of cords that has to be folded a specific way in order for it to deploy properly while attached to a test load weighing 1,100 pounds.
During the test run, the system successfully triggered a release 12 seconds right after a smaller pilot parachute was inflated. It took two and a half minutes for the parachute to reach the ground. Footage of the descent was captured by several GoPro cameras attached to the test vehicle.
This is the first in a series of what are expected to be several trials, considering that the space agency does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Schiaparelli lander. In 2016, the first part of the ExoMars mission went to the red planet with the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli.
But the lander crashed into Mars’ surface, as it was not properly equipped for the planet’s very harsh, supersonic conditions upon landing. To compensate, these tests are being conducted in sub-zero temperatures in Kiruna, Sweden.
It was a very exciting moment to see this giant parachute unfurl and deliver the test module to the snowy surface in Kiruna,
Thierry Blancquaert of ESA said. “And we’re looking forward to assessing the full parachute descent sequence in the upcoming high-altitude tests.”
The next parachute will be deployed from a stratospheric balloon around 19 miles above the ground, which mimics Mars’ low atmospheric pressure closely.