Ahead of its Mars rover mission set to be launched in 2020, NASA has successfully tested a supersonic landing parachute that will slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere at over 5.4 kilometres per second.
Preparations for this mission have provided, for the first time, dramatic video of the parachute opening at supersonic speed. The Mars 2020 mission will seek signs of ancient Martian life by investigating evidence in place and by caching drilled samples of Martian rocks for potential future return to Earth.
The mission's parachute-testing series, the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment, or ASPIRE, began with a rocket launch and upper-atmosphere flight last month from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the US.
NASA's Mars mission
NASA has used both spacecr aft and robots to learn more about Mars. In 1965, Mariner 4 was the first NASA spacecraft to get a close look at the planet. In 1976, Viking 1 and Viking 2 were the first NASA spacecraft to land on Mars. They took pictures and explored the planet's surface. Since then, more spacecraft have flown near or landed on Mars.
Computer generated image of rover that would land on Mars
NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars in January 2004. They found evidence that water once flowed on Mars. Living things need water to survive. So, any sign of water on Mars would mean that there could be, or could have been, life on the planet.
Today, three spacecraft are circling above, or orbiting, Mars. The spacecraft are using scientific tools to measure the volcanoes, canyons, craters, temperature and the kinds of minerals on Mars. They also are taking pictures and searching for water.
The Red Planet
NASA plans to send more robots to Mars. NASA wants robots to someday collect Martian soil and rocks and bring them back to Earth to be studied. The MAVEN spacecraft started orbiting Mars in September 2014. MAVEN studies Mars' atmosphere. NASA plans to send a lander to Mars in 2016. And a new Mars rover is planned for launch in 2020.
NASA also wants to send astronauts to Mars someday. To get ready to send humans to Mars, NASA is studying new kinds of homes where astronauts can live. Scientists are studying how people in space could grow plants for food. By watching what happens to astronauts on the International Space Station, scientists are finding out how living in space affects humans.
(Images and text courtesy - www.nasa.gov.in)
This is the first of several tests in support of NASA's Mars 2020 mission. A 17.7-metre-tall sounding rocket was launched for the evaluation of the ASPIRE payload performance. The payload is a bullet-nosed, cylindrical structure holding a supersonic parachute, the parachute's deployment mechanism, and the test's high-definition instrumentation - including cameras - to record data.
The rocket carried the payload as high as about 51 kilometres. Forty-two seconds later, at an altitude of 42 kilometres and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound, the test conditions were met and the Mars parachute successfully deployed. Thirty-five minutes after launch, ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.The parachute tested during this first flight was almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA's Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the red planet in 2012.
Future tests will evaluate the performance of a strengthened parachute that could also be used in future Mars missions. The Mars 2020 team will use data from these tests to finalise the design for its mission. The next ASPIRE test is planned for February 2018.
OneIndia News with PTI inputs