Vorticity Systems has completed the testing of several subsonic parachute shapes for future Mars missions in an initiative backed by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Technology Development Element.
Vorticity Systems is a UK-based firm known for its specialisation in designing and developing entry, descent and landing systems for space vehicles. It was the leading contractor for the ESA programme intended to identify appropriate parachute technology for subsonic deceleration on Mars, and to improve understanding of subsonic parachutes that could be used for space exploration in the future.
For the ESA's programme, Vorticity's research team selected several potentially suitable parachute types and conducted multiple tests on them. They studied existing parachute designs as well as the available test methodologies. The team also designed novel parachute geometry with the aim of enhancing the inflation characteristics of the disk-gap-band parachute.
Four types of test were performed to assess the performance of parachutes. The static incidence wind tunnel tests and free-flight deployment wind tunnel tests were conducted in Canada, while subscale, high-altitude drop tests and full-scale, low-altitude drop tests were conducted in Sweden and UK, respectively.
The parachutes were tested using a drone, low- and high-altitude balloons, and a helicopter, at sites including a 2x3 metre wind tunnel and a larger 9x9 metre wind tunnel. High-fidelity software simulations were also used to analyse the performance of the parachutes.
During one specific test, the air around a parachute was seeded with tiny droplets of olive oil. The flow pattern of these droplets was then observed using laser scanning technology.
The research team believes the programme has helped to improve the understanding of subsonic parachutes, as well as in developing new efficient test techniques for parachutes for space use.
"This was a very challenging project involving many tests at different facilities," said Luca Ferracina, who manages the project for the ESA.
"We collected an enormous amount of data to help us to better understand the behaviour and performance of many parachute types."
Ferracina believes the data collected through these multiple tests will be key to the design of parachutes, not just for future missions to Mars, but also Venus, Neptune and Uranus.
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