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Britain's first Mars rover passes parachute tests to stop it crashing into Red Planet

Britain's first Mars rover has passed parachute tests designed to prevent it from crashing into the Red Planet.

The two parachutes which will safely deposit the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover have completed their first full-scale high-altitude drop test - bringing exploration of the planet one step closer.

A stratospheric balloon was used to lift the test vehicle 18 miles into the air over Oregon in the US on Nov 9.

The dropping procedure, which takes just six minutes to execute, was successfully completed, with only minor canopy damage to the parachutes when they were inflated.

The Rosalind Franklin joint mission between Europe and Russia is due for launch in 2022. It will try to detect life, past or present, on Mars.

Completion of the parachute test marks a critical milestone for the rover, which was built in Stevenage by Airbus.

Atmospheric drag will slow the rover down from around 13,048mph to 1,056mph, and the first parachute will then be deployed.

Around 20 seconds later, at about 248mph, the second parachute will open.

When the module is half a mile above the planet, the braking engines will kick into gear and safely deliver it to the surface.

The parachute descent system is tested by replicating the conditions of low atmospheric pressure on Mars.

The parachutes were tested unsuccessfully twice last year. Until now, a third attempt had been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, wind and forest fires.

Francois Spoto, leader of the ExoMars programme team, said the results were promising but more work is needed to ensure the parachutes stay completely intact.

"Landing on Mars is extremely difficult, with no room for error," he said.

"The latest test was a good step forward but is not yet the perfect outcome we are seeking. Therefore, we will use the extensive test data we have acquired to refine our approach, plan further tests and keep on track for our launch in September 2022."

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