From WCIA, with a half a million dollar grant from NASA, University of Illinois researchers are developing new technology to make the challenging and expensive task of landing rovers on Mars easier. The engineering department received the grant to test giant parachutes. NASA has been using variations on the same designs and technology since the 1970’s.
Carlos Pantano, and associate professor in the engineering department, has been working on these parachutes for about ten years. To accommodate for the heavier equipment used today the parachutes need to be bigger, between 30 and 50 feet in diameter. NASA used to do their tests at full scale in the upper atmosphere, which has now become impractical, costing anywhere from 20 100 million dollars.
Instead, they have begun to rely on simulations, like the one Pantano has been working on. The simulations can take thousands of computers working together for 30 seconds of flight, but allow for hundreds of tests, rather than the few full scale tests formerly done. Pantano says the simulations are getting more and more accurate and are very close to what the real world tests would be like.