Mars is proving to be an interesting enough place that we're sending larger and larger things there to do more exploration and science. The larger the thing, the harder it is to land intact on the surface of Mars, which means that NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have to come up with increasingly nutball schemes to ensure safe touchdowns. I mean, encapsulating rovers in giant bouncy balls? Robotic sky cranes? It's ludicrous. And JPL is starting to make plans to go even bigger, which means a correspondingly larger supersonic parachute to perform the initial slowing after atmospheric entry.
JPL's newest parachute prototypes are too large to be tested inside a wind tunnel, which means that they've had to get creative. Creative, in this case, means hoisting the chute up by helicopter, dropping a line down to a rocket sled, and setting the thing off to rapidly yank the chute downwards to simulate a high-speed deployment. The video below takes us through the entire process, and while this particular parachute didn't do so well, what scientists learn from the failure should help them design one that will get the next generation of robots to the surface safely, with humans following behind.
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