The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission opens to a diameter of nearly 16 meters (51 feet).
This image shows a duplicate qualification-test parachute inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
The Mars Science Laboratory will be launched in 2011 for a landing on Mars in 2012. Its parachute is the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial mission.
The parachute uses a configuration called disk-gap-band, with 80 suspension lines. Most of the orange and white fabric is nylon, though a small disk of heavier polyester is used near the vent in the apex of the canopy due to higher stresses there.
Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor, Conn., built the parachutes for testing and for flying on the Mars Science Laboratory. The wind tunnel used for the testing is part of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, operated by the Arnold Engineering Development Center of the U.S. Air Force. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is building and testing the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.