ExoMars completes parachute test ahead of 2022 launch

The ExoMars rover has completed a successful test for its parachutes, bringing it once step closer to a safe landing on the Red Planet.

It completed its first full-scale high altitude drop test, following redesigned elements after two failed tests last year.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said that although the parachute extraction and deceleration proceeded as expected, some canopy damage occurred which suggests the early inflation process should be the “focus of further improvements”.

Once the rover reaches Mars, a six-minute sequence will see a descent module deploy two parachutes to quickly slow it down ahead of its landing on the Martian surface.

Atmospheric drag will slow the module from around 21,000km/h to 1,700km/h at which point the first parachute will be deployed. Around 20 seconds later, at about 400kmph, the second parachute will open. Following separation of the parachutes about 1km above ground the braking engines will kick in to safely deliver the landing platform onto the surface of Mars.

“Landing on Mars is extremely difficult, with no room for error,” says ExoMars Programme team leader Francois Spoto.

“The latest test was a good step forward but is not yet the perfect outcome we are seeking. Therefore, we will use the extensive test data we have acquired to refine our approach, plan further tests and keep on track for our launch in September 2022.”

The test had been delayed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, wind, and forest fires.

It took place over Oregon earlier this month, with a drop test vehicle lofted to a height of 29km in a stratospheric balloon.

The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos. In addition to the 2022 mission, it also includes the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) launched in 2016.

In 2019, measurements from the TGO showed little sign of methane on the planet despite finding earlier indications that the gas was present. The findings could lower the chance that life ever existed on Mars.

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