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Sci-Tech

See NASA's supersonic Mars parachute set a thrilling record

The Mars 2020 rover will ride down to the red planet in style.

The Mars 2020 rover parachute is made from nylon, Technora and Kevlar fibers.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

When you have a $2.4 billion mission on the line, you want the very best parachute money can buy to lower your invaluable rover gently to the surface of Mars.

NASA said Friday its Mars 2020 parachute is ready for duty. The parachute also set a world record during testing on Sept. 7. "It was the fastest inflation in history of a parachute this size and created a peak load of almost 70,000 pounds of force," says NASA.  

The parachute took a ride on a sounding rocket to be deployed in conditions that mimic the Mars atmosphere. "Within four-tenths of a second, the 180-pound parachute billowed out from being a solid cylinder to being fully inflated," says NASA.

This was the third in a series of tests run for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) project. 

NASA released a video of an earlier ASPIRE test in late 2017. The finalized 2020 parachute is a reinforced version of the one used to safely deliver the Curiosity rover to Mars.

NASA released a video showing the tests, which makes the parachutes look like space-faring jellyfish.

NASA's next-generation Mars 2020 rover is based on the proven design of the Curiosity rover, but it'll be the space agency's heaviest rover, weighing 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilograms). 

The rover will be searching for signs of past microbial life on the planet. It'll also be tasked with collecting samples and placing them in caches that could be retrieved by later missions and taken back to Earth.

NASA has hit some speed bumps with its current crop of Mars rovers recently. The Opportunity rover has been out of touch since June when a dust storm sent it into hibernation. Curiosity is just now getting back to science operations after running into an issue with transmitting data back to Earth. 

NASA plans to launch the new rover to the red planet in mid-2020. 

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