JPL tests big with a supersonic parachute for Mars

April 11, 2014 by Jason Major, Universe Today

"You wanna go to Mars, you wanna go big? Then you gotta test big here," says mechanical engineer Michael Meacham, and testing big is exactly what he and other engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have done to develop a new supersonic parachute for future Mars landings.

The process of putting things onto Mars has traditionally used the same couple of tried-and-true methods: inflatable, shock-absorbing bouncers and large parachutes combined with retro-rockets (most recently seen in the famous "Seven Minutes of Terror" Curiosity landing in August 2012.) But both methods are limited in how large and massive of an object can safely be placed on the Martian surface. For even larger-scale future missions, new technology will have to be developed to make successful landings possible.

Enter the LDSD, or Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, an enormous parachute—similar to the one used by Curiosity except bigger—that can slow the descent of even more massive payloads through the thin Martian atmosphere.

Of course, part of the development process is testing. And in order to run such a large chute through the same sorts of rigors it would experience during an actual Mars landing, JPL engineers had to step outside of the wind tunnel and devise another method.

Credit: NASA/JPL

The one they came up with involves a rocket sled, a Night Hawk helicopter, a 100-lb steel bullet, a kilometer-long cable (and lots and lots of math.) It's an experiment worthy of "Mythbusters"… watch the video above to see how it turned out.

"When we land spacecraft on Mars, we're going extremely fast… we have got to slow down. So we use a parachute. And we use a really big ," says Michael Meacham, at JPL.

Explore further: JPL to test new supersonic decelerator technology

Related Stories

JPL to test new supersonic decelerator technology

December 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —A giant crane will tower above NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., shooting out of a hilly mesa like an oversized erector set, ready to help test components of NASA's Low Density Supersonic ...

NASA fires up rocket sled hardware at China Lake

March 30, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA recently performed a trial run on a rocket sled test fixture, powered by rockets, to replicate the forces a supersonic spacecraft would experience prior to landing.

Anxiety over rover's Hollywood-style Mars landing

August 3, 2012

Seven minutes of terror. It sounds like a Hollywood thriller, but the phrase describes the anxiety NASA is expecting as its car-sized robotic rover tries a tricky landing on Mars late Sunday.

Landing is key puzzle in Mars trip, experts say

May 8, 2013

Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

Recommended for you

NASA telescope studies quirky comet 45P

November 22, 2017

When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gwrede
1 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2014
These videos are getting so fast and furious, so full of action and zooming and rock music (not to mention the condescending jock of a speaker) that its hard to find the facts and points here.

What is left, is a worthless piece of eye and ear candy, totally void of understandable content.
peter_trypsteen
5 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2014
Another interesting development in breaking is:
The Plasma Magnetoshell
http://www.nasa.g...ley.html
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2014
Another interesting development in breaking is:
The Plasma Magnetoshell
http://www.nasa.g...ley.html
Wow.

"This means that for any given breaking drag forces on the Magnetoshell will be three orders of magnitude larger than the aerodynamic forces on the spacecraft. With the ability to rapidly and precisely modify the drag in varying atmospheric conditions, much larger braking forces can now be contemplated at low risk, enabling very aggressive aerocapture maneuvers. In addition, the Magnetoshell will shield against solar radiation. As will be shown, the mission benefits are dramatic. A NASA DRA 5.0 manned mission to Mars can be accomplished with 225 MT is mass savings and decreased programmatic and technical risk."

-If Gswift is reading this, didn't you say only a month ago that all this was impossible? Yes you did.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.