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ExoMars parachute test fails for the second time



Next year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send ExoMars 2020 to the Red Planet. This mission consists of an ESA-built Rover ( Rosalind Franklin ) and a Russia-led Surface Research Platform ( Kazachok ), which studies the Martian environment to characterize its surface and atmosphere

To prepare for this mission, the engineers put the Rover and Lander through their paces. This includes further development of the mission's parachute system, which is currently in troubleshooting after a failed deployment test earlier this month. These efforts take place at the experimental site of the Swedish Space Corporation in Esrange and include the largest parachute ever used by a Mars mission.

Once the Rover and Lander are finished, they will be housed in a descent module that will be in the future Transport to Mars through a carrier module (which is fired by Baikonur on a Russian proton rocket). As soon as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the descent module relies on two parachutes (each with its own pull-out pilot shaft) to decelerate to the point where the brake motors can lock into place.

This entire sequence lasts only six minutes and is essential for a smooth landing mission. To make sure everything was fine, several parachute tests were conducted at the Esrange site of the SSC. The first took place last year, successfully demonstrating the deployment and inflation of the 35-meter main parachute of the abseiling module from a height of 1.2 km.

Already in May, all four parachutes from a height of 29 km were subjected to a deployment test in which they were dropped by a helium balloon in the stratosphere. While the trigger mechanisms were activated correctly and the entire sequence was completed, both main screens were damaged. Inspections were made and adjustments were made to the construction of the parachutes and bags.

Another altitude trial followed, with only the larger 35-meter parachute taking place a few weeks ago (on Monday, August 5). , While a preliminary assessment found that the first steps were successfully completed, the canopy was also damaged prior to inflation, forcing the test module to descend solely by the air resistance of the pilot chute.

As Francois Spoto, Team Leader

"It is disappointing that the precautionary design adjustments introduced after the anomalies of the last test did not help us succeed in the second test, but we remain focused as usual and strive for understanding and correct the mistake to launch it next year.

ExoMars 2020 Parachute Delivery Sequence. Credit: ESA

Currently, the mission teams are evaluating all of the hardware, video and recorded telemetry data to determine the cause of the anomaly. Analysis of the data by the team will provide insight into further changes and adjustments that may be required to put the parachute system into operation before the next test.

Subject to grave problems, this test is expected to be completed before the end of the year, while the next qualification attempt for the second major parachute is planned for early 2020. In the meantime, the teams are considering creating additional test models and performing ground-based simulations designed to simulate the dynamics of high-altitude drop tests.

This will fix bugs before the actual tests for which opportunities are rare. In addition, NASA and ESA experts will meet next month to share information and address concerns about the mission. As Spoto explains:

"It's very difficult to get to Mars and land on Mars in particular. We are determined to fly a system that safely transports our payload to the Martian surface to carry out its unique scientific mission. "

Artistic representation of the ESA rover Exomars exploring the Martian surface. Credit: ESA

Both Rover and Lander are nearing completion. The latter will soon begin its environmental testing campaign at Airbus Toulouse in Cannes, France. Likewise, the flight carrier module, which consists of the descent module and the lander platform, will begin its final round of testing at the Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France.

Unless there are delays, the rover and spacecraft will be integrated early next year. The launch of the mission is currently scheduled for the period from July 25 to August 13, 2020. Once they arrive on Mars, Rover Rosalind Franklin and Lander Kazachok join a lander chorus of robot missions looking for clues to the past of Mars.

Further reading: ESA


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