Mars mission parachute test a success, says ESA

KIRUNA, Sweden. The ExoMars project -- a joint venture of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian governmental body Roscosmos -- reports that it has successfully tested the largest parachute ever to fly on a Mars mission; the test was the first in a series of trials to prepare for the upcoming ExoMars mission that will deliver a rover and a surface science platform to the Red Planet. The spacecraft that will carry them is due to launch in July 2020, arriving at Mars in March 2021.

ESA officials say that a carrier module will transport the rover and the science platform to Mars within a single aeroshell; shortly before reaching the planet's atmosphere, a descent module will separate from the carrier at which time a heat shield, parachutes, thrusters, and damping systems will reduce the speed of the module, delivering the equipment safely to the surface of the Red Planet.

The recent test -- conducted in subzero temperatures in Sweden -- demonstrated the deployment and inflation of the 35 meter (114.8 feet)-diameter second main parachute, which was hoisted 1.2 km (more than 3,000 feet) above the ground via helicopter, with the deployment sequence initiated after the vehicle was released. About 12 seconds after the pilot chute was inflated, the second parachute release was triggered. GoPro cameras on the 500-kg (1,100-pound) test vehicle were set up to view the parachute inflation, and onboard equipment sent telemetry in real time as the vehicle descended in about two and a half minutes to the ground.

The low-altitude test of the large parachute (manufactured by Arescosmo) in Sweden was performed under supervision of ESA, France -- which is responsible for the Parachute Assembly System -- and Thales Alenia Space Italy as the ExoMars prime contractor.

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