Unless you’ve been living on a different planet, you may have already heard that NASA has just landed the heaviest and most sophisticated rover, Percy (OK, officially Perseverance), on the Red planet. What you may not have heard is that a hundred year old company in Southern California, just 50 miles south of NASA JPL, was responsible for designing and manufacturing the state-of-the-art parachute that safely decelerated Percy from supersonic speeds ready for the daring SkyCrane maneuver.
Let’s talk about the fun stuff, parachute details, obviously. The Mars 2020 parachute is 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) in diameter, deploys about 240 seconds after atmospheric entry, at an altitude of about 7 miles (11 kilometers) and a velocity of about 940 mph (1,512 kph), which means the parachute was inflating at about Mach 1.75. To get the full stats on entry, descent, and landing (EDL), check out this article.
With Percy weighing in at over 2,200 lbs, about the weight of a car, this was the heaviest Mars landing to date, which required the strongest parachute ever flown on Mars or any other planet, except Earth! What makes this landing even more special for the parachute world is that it’s the first time anybody has actually seen a parachute perform in the Mars atmosphere. In the past, parachute performance on Mars has been deduced or inferred based on data, but this time we have high speed video, video that will be poured over frame by frame to aid future missions to Mars and other planetary bodies.
The parachute, weighing approximately 180 pounds, was mortar deployed from the back of the aeroshell and inflated in less than a second. Meaning it took less than a second to transform the parachute from a 18 by 26 inch cylinder of nylon, Kevlar, and Technora compressed to the density of wood, into a fully inflated 70.5 ft nominal diameter parachute. The tens of thousands of pounds of force that the parachute generated during this supersonic inflation stressed both the parachute and the vehicle.
Here at Airborne Systems we couldn’t be more proud to have played a part in this amazing feat for humankind. We like to think of Mars 2020 as being the ultimate parachute test vehicle, but in truth the real mission is only just beginning……..
To learn more about what Percy is up to on Mars, check out ‘7 things to know about the Mars Perseverance Mission’ as well as the Perseverance mission page. And if you noticed the unique pattern on the parachute in these images, you’ll like this as well.