A supersonic parachute that will help NASA missions to land on Mars, was successfully launched, into the sky during a key test designed to mimic the conditions of entering the red planet.
The launch of a Black Brant IX sounding rocket carrying the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment or ASPIRE was successfully conducted at 12:19 p.m. EDT, March 31, 2018, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, NASA said in a media advisory.
Albeit the launch was originally scheduled for March 27, it was delayed until the eve of Easter, according to the Wallops Twitter feed, which did not give an explanation. However, according to the US space and astronomy news website Space.com, the delay was due to rough seas at the parachute’s recovery zone in the Atlantic Ocean. The test was meant to mimic the conditions that a spacecraft would experience during a red planet entry, descent and landing (EDL).
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.
Analysis of the recovered chute and data gathered by the cameras and other instruments will help researchers complete the design of the chute for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. The Mars rover is scheduled to launch in two years, on a mission to hunt for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.
ASPIRE that now has two test flights to its credit, is managed by JPL, with support from NASA's Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia, and Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley, California, for the agency’s Science mission directorate in Washington.
Watch the ASPIRE launch video below.