Giant Mars Rover Parachute Passes Key Test

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. (Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/JPL)

Theparachute for NASA's massive Mars Science Laboratory has been cleared forflight after it was put to the test in the world?s largest wind tunnel.

The giantparachute is the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial flight and isdesigned to survive deployment at Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, where itwill generate up to 65,000 pounds of drag force when the new Mars ScienceLaboratory eventually lands.

Theparachute was tested in the wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center in MoffettField, Calif., which is big enough to house a Boeing 737. An image of thetesting shows an engineer dwarfed by the massive parachute.

The MarsScience Laboratory is a rover the size of a small sports utility vehicle. It isso large that the giant parachute will only slow its descent. A set brakingrockets are expected to fire just before touchdown so the rover can be loweredto the Martian surface by a crane.

The newrover, which will eventually be re-named, is slated for launch in 2011 afterits initial launch window in 2009 had to be pushed backdue to delays.

The MarsScience Laboratory?s parachute, built by Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor,Conn., has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 165 feet (50 meters) inlength, and opens to a diameter of nearly 51 feet (16 meters).

NASA?s twosmaller rovers Spirit andOpportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004 using parachutes and airbags, arecurrently exploring the Martian surface. They are each about the size of a golfcart.

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