Findings from the supersonic qualification program of the Mars Science Laboratory parachute system

Anita Sengupta, Adam Steltzner, Allen Witkowski, Graham Candler, Carlos Pantano

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

32 Scopus citations


In 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory Mission (MSL) will deploy NASA's largest extra-terrestrial parachute, a technology integral to the safe landing of its advanced robotic explorer on the surface. The supersonic parachute system is a mortar deployed 21.5 m disk-gap-band (DGB) parachute, identical in geometric scaling to the Viking era DGB parachutes of the 1970's. The MSL parachute deployment conditions are Mach 2.3 at a dynamic pressure of 750 Pa. The Viking Balloon Launched Decelerator Test (BLDT) successfully demonstrated a maximum of 700 Pa at Mach 2.2 for a 16.1 m DGB parachute in its AV4 flight. All previous Mars deployments have derived their supersonic qualification from the Viking BLDT test series, preventing the need for full scale high altitude supersonic testing. The qualification programs for Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rover, and Phoenix Scout Missions were all limited to subsonic structural qualification, with supersonic performance and survivability bounded by the BLDT qualification. The MSL parachute, at the edge of the supersonic heritage deployment space and 33% larger than the Viking parachute, accepts a certain degree of risk without addressing the supersonic environment in which it will deploy. In addition, MSL will spend up to 10 seconds above Mach 1.5, an aerodynamic regime that is associated with a known parachute instability characterized by significant canopy projected area fluctuation and dynamic drag variation. This aerodynamic instability, referred to as "area oscillations" by the parachute community has drag performance, inflation stability, and structural implications, introducing risk to mission success if not quantified for the MSL parachute system. To minimize this risk and as an alternative to a prohibitively expensive high altitude test program, a multi-phase qualification program using computation simulation validated by subscale test was developed and implemented for MSL. The first phase consisted of 2% of fullscale supersonic wind tunnel testing of a rigid DGB parachute with entry-vehicle to validate two high fidelity computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools. The computer codes utilized Large Eddy Simulation and Detached Eddy Simulation numerical approaches to accurately capture the turbulent wake of the entry vehicle and its coupling to the parachute bow-shock. The second phase was the development of fluid structure interaction (FSI) computational tools to predict parachute response to the supersonic flow field. The FSI development included the integration of the CFD from the first phase with a finite element structural model of the parachute membrane and cable elements. In this phase, a 4% of full-scale supersonic flexible parachute test program was conducted to provide validation data to the FSI code and an empirical dataset of the MSL parachute in a flight-like environment. The final phase is FSI simulations of the full-scale MSL parachute in a Mars type deployment. Findings from this program will be presented in terms of code development and validation, empirical findings from the supersonic testing, and drag performance during supersonic operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication20th AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technology Conference
StatePublished - 2009
Event20th AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technology Conference - Seattle, WA, United States
Duration: May 4 2009May 7 2009

Publication series

Name20th AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technology Conference


Other20th AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technology Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySeattle, WA


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