Mars Exploration Rovers Update
24 Sep 2002
(Source: Cornell University)
Week Ending September 21, 2002
We had a million things happen this week, but it all pales in comparison to the news from the parachute test.
Landing on Mars is hard, and one of the toughest parts of this job has been figuring out how to get our rovers down safely. The airbags that we use to cushion our impact on the surface gave us fits for quite a while, and it was only several months ago that we finally found an airbag design that we're confident will work.
The parachute problem has been even worse. We did a set of chute tests back in May and June, and they did not go well. The chutes would deploy just fine, but as soon as they completely filled with air the pressure on them was too much. It gives you a pretty sick feeling to watch the parachute that you hoped was going to land you safely on Mars rip to shreds!
Over the past several months, Adam Steltzner, Wayne Lee, and the rest of our EDL team have been working on the chute problem. The moment of truth for the newest chute design came this past Thursday, at NASA's Ames Research Center. Ames has an enormous wind tunnel. It's big enough to put a small airliner in, and it's easily big enough to do a full-scale deployment of our parachute. They cranked the fans up, popped the chute... and it worked! There was no damage at all. Just a big, solid, beautiful bowl of a parachute.
We don't have to start building our flight chutes until November, so we're going to spend another several weeks doing more testing, to make sure that whatever we fly is as good ast it can be. But this problem, which frankly had some of us pretty worried, now finally seems to be under control. This week we took a crucial step forward on the road to Mars.
-- S. Squyres