NASA is looking at ways to make it possible to land larger spacecraft on Mars. This is taking part with a view to hopefully including astronauts on those landing in the future. However, they have had a hefty setback whilst trying to develop such things recently. Whilst testing new technology, a parachute has failed to open up, NASA reported.
Spokeswoman for NASA, Kimberly Newton, said in an email release that whilst the parachute did deploy, it simply failed to open. Footage of the incident appears to show the parachute disintegrating instead.
This took place in tests near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The testing is aimed at determining whether new technology will make it possible for larger aircraft to slow down enough to land, after having it travel through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.
Compounding the unfortunate failure of the recent testing is that similar testing last year also saw a huge parachute fail to inflate. On that occasion, new Mars spacecraft technology was also being trialled. The parachute had been redesigned since last year in the hope that they may have fixed the issue. It appears that they still have some problems to iron out in order to make any more progress.
The decent began thirty-four miles above the surface of the Earth near Hawaii. At this altitude, the atmosphere is said to be quite similar to that of Mars itself. The testing consisted of a huge donut-shaped ring which was tasked with slowing down the flying saucer-shaped aircraft. Given the recent problems, the technology will surely not be used on any Mars-related missions any time in the near future. In fact, they may scrap testing on this particular technology altogether.
The parachute used is about one hundred feet, or thirty metres in diameter. This makes it difficult for NASA to conduct testing with it given that it is too big for the wind tunnels at they would normally use to test parachutes. Before now, they have basically been using the same parachutes which were designed to slow approaching craft during the first twin Viking landers reached the red planet in 1976.
During the current testing, a large balloon was used to carry the landing vehicle 23 miles, or 37 kilometres, up in to the atmosphere. It was from here that a booster rocket was used to life it to 34 miles, or 55 kilometres, upwards. It than began its decent.
The recent flight was the second in a planned three tests which make up the project.
NASA has said in the past, that it wants to be in the position where it is able to send astronauts to Mars by sometime during the 2030s.