Testing during March and April 2009 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., qualified the parachute for NASA's next Mars rover.
The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, to be launched in 2011 and land on Mars in 2012, is the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial mission.
This image shows the qualification-test parachute beginning to open a few seconds after it was launched from a mortar into an 80-mile-per-hour (36-meter-per-second) wind.
The parachute uses a configuration called disk-gap-band. It has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 50 meters (165 feet) in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 16 meters (51 feet). Most of the orange and white fabric is nylon, though a small disk of heavier polyester is used near the vent in the apex of the canopy due to higher stresses there.
Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor, Conn., built the parachutes for testing and for flying on the Mars Science Laboratory. The wind tunnel used for the testing is part of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, operated by the Arnold Engineering Development Center of the U.S. Air Force. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is building and testing the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.