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NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Ames' MSL contributionsAmes MSL press kit
The parachute decelerator system for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft underwent extensive testing at Ames in support of the design and flight-qualification of the final MSL parachute canopy design. The basic design of the canopy is called the disc-gap band parachute, dating back to the 1970s, and has been used for all NASA spacecraft planetary entries to date. The MSL parachute is the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial mission.
A total of six different tests for the parachute between October 2007 and April 2009 were conducted in the 80-foot-by-120-foot section of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) – the world's largest wind tunnel – operated by the Arnold Engineering Development Center of the U.S. Air Force and located at Ames. Wind tunnel testing in the 80-foot-by-120-foot section of the NFAC enabled engineers to launch and observe the deployment of the full-scale parachute in 80-mile-per-hour wind.
Prior to testing, the support structure used in the wind tunnel to launch and anchor the parachute had to be replaced. The parachute needed to be tested under high drag loads, around 85,000 pounds, but the facility was built to handle only 50,000 pounds. The NASA Ames Engineering System Division designed an innovative support structure, which was fabricated and installed by the NASA Ames Applied Manufacturing Division, allowing to test up to 100,000 pounds. Afterwards, the NASA Ames Wind Tunnel Division assisted the U.S. Air Force NFAC team conduct the test.
Engineers tested different parachute packaging techniques by loading the test parachute into a mortar deployment system and aiming it towards the upper middle portion of the tunnel. Engineers then fired the mortar to launch the parachute. During the test, the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch at Ames recorded high-speed video data of the full-scale parachute deployment. The video was used to ensure consistent and proper parachute deployment.
The NASA Ames Wind Tunnel Division also conducted tests of a two-percent scale model of the MSL entry vehicle with a rigid representation of the parachute in the NASA Ames 9-foot-by-7-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel. The wind tunnel test was performed at supersonic speeds between Mach 1.5 and Mach 2.5 to study the interactions between the MSL aeroshell and parachute during atmospheric entry, and to validate Computational Fluid Dynamic predictions of the system performance. Ames engineers also performed small-scale verification tests of the parachute in the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory.
Ames engineers conducted tests of a two-percent scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) entry vehicle in the NASA Ames 9-foot-by-7-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel with a rigid representation of the parachute.
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