UK Space Industry’s Mars Rover One Step Closer to Completion

UK Space Industry’s Mars Rover One Step Closer to Completion

The dual parachutes securely delivering the first ever UK-built Mars rover landing on the planet’s surface have successfully achieved their initial high-altitude full-scale drop tests.

The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover by the European Space Agency will be carried by a descent unit which will deploy the two parachutes ahead of landing on Mars’ surface. This will rapidly slow the rover down to enable a safe landing.

As the vehicle approaches Mars, the planet’s atmosphere will decelerate the module which will be travelling at approximately 21,000 kilometres per hour, to 1,700 kilometres per hour, when the initial parachute will be utilised. This will cause the vehicle to travel at an even lower 400kmph, whereby the following parachute will be deployed. At a distance of 1 kilometre directly above the planet’s surface, the vehicle’s braking engines will enable a safe delivery to the surface of Mars.

The parachute deployment sequence requires successful testing on Earth ahead of integration with the ESA rover. This only achievable through the drop tests which simulate the conditions generated by the lower air pressure experienced in the atmosphere on Mars. The tests were due to take place in March 2020 but were delayed as a result of the global pandemic as well as forest fires and wind fires. On Monday 9th November however, the drop test vehicle was able to be elevated to a height of 29 kilometres by a stratospheric balloon in Oregon in the United States.

The deceleration and extraction of the parachutes proceeded as predicted, with the parachutes recovered and safe landing of the experimental vehicle. Minor awning damage was found on both parachutes, which occurred at the moment of inflation.

The mission known as the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ mission will attempt to search for life on Mars. Successful achievement of the parachute test commemorates a crucial milestone ahead of launch schedules for 2022. The test data is set to be analysed to establish potential additional improvements ahead of future assessments.

Head of Space Exploration for the UK Space Agency, Sue Horne said: “Mars has been an object of our fascination and speculation for all recorded history, but we know that missions to the Red Planet are no easy ride.

“Parachute tests are vital in helping us get the technology exactly right and making sure that the Rosalind Franklin rover lifts off with the most advanced and reliable equipment possible”.

The UK-built vehicle will examine curious geological sites, drilling beneath the surface in order to determine whether life ever existed on Earth’s neighbour planet. The overall objective of this mission is to investigate the presence and history of water on Mars to consider the question of whether or not life either has existed or still does exist there. This in turn, would provide prominent evidence of the prospect that extra-terrestrial life exists elsewhere in the Universe.


1. GOV.UK (2020), UK-built rover landing on Martian surface moves one giant fall closer