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Wed Aug 14, 2019, 05:55 AM

Exomars: Parachute test failure threat to launch date


Exomars: Parachute test failure threat to launch date

By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website

13 August 2019

A European-Russian effort to land on Mars has been hit by another parachute failure, during a drop test in Sweden. It's the second test mishap involving the parachutes, so with launch under a year away, the Exomars project cannot afford another failure. It means the next test is critical if the mission is to avoid a delay to its targeted launch date of July 2020.

The plan is to send a Russian surface platform and a European rover down to the Martian surface.

The European Space Agency's (Esa) Rosalind Franklin rover will collect samples of soil with a drill and analyse them for the presence of organic material. This could provide clues to the presence of past or even current life on Mars.

The rover and the Russian Kazachok lander will be encapsulated in a carrier module during their six-minute journey down to the surface.

During a high-altitude test on 5 August in Kiruna, Sweden, a test mass designed to represent the combined lander and rover was dropped from a stratospheric helium balloon at the height of 29km.

Engineers were testing the largest of two main parachutes, measuring 35m in diameter, designed to slow the vehicle to a speed required to land safely on Mars. The European Space Agency says it's the largest ever to fly on a Mars mission.

However, the test article crashed into the ground at high speed. Preliminary analysis shows that the initial steps in the parachute's deployment were carried out correctly. However, specialists spotted radial tears in the canopy of the parachute prior to its inflation. As result, the test module descended under the drag of the pilot chute alone.

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