Giant Mars Rover Parachute Passes Key Test
The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory passed flight-qualification testing in March and April 2009 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
CREDIT: NASA/Ames Research Center/JPL
The parachute for NASA's massive Mars Science Laboratory has been cleared for flight after it was put to the test in the world?s largest wind tunnel.
The giant parachute is the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial flight and is designed to survive deployment at Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, where it will generate up to 65,000 pounds of drag force when the new Mars Science Laboratory eventually lands.
The parachute was tested in the wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which is big enough to house a Boeing 737. An image of the testing shows an engineer dwarfed by the massive parachute.
The Mars Science Laboratory is a rover the size of a small sports utility vehicle. It is so large that the giant parachute will only slow its descent. A set braking rockets are expected to fire just before touchdown so the rover can be lowered to the Martian surface by a crane.
The new rover, which will eventually be re-named, is slated for launch in 2011 after its initial launch window in 2009 had to be pushed back due to delays.
The Mars Science Laboratory?s parachute, built by Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor, Conn., has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 165 feet (50 meters) in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 51 feet (16 meters).
NASA?s two smaller rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004 using parachutes and airbags, are currently exploring the Martian surface. They are each about the size of a golf cart.
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