Washington: NASA has successfully captured thermal images of a commercial rocket on its descent, a development that may provide engineering inputs for future missions to Mars, the US space agency said in a statement.
"Because the technologies required to land large payloads on Mars are significantly different than those used here on Earth, investment in these technologies is critical," said Robert Braun, principal investigator for NASA's Propulsive Descent Technologies (PDT) project.
The rocket SpaceX Falcon 9 was launched in September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"This is the first high-fidelity data set of a rocket system firing into its direction of travel while travelling at supersonic speeds in Mars-relevant conditions.
"Analysis of this unique data set will enable system engineers to extract important lessons for the application and infusion of supersonic retro-propulsion into future NASA missions," added Braun
The space agency employed two aircraft with advanced instrumentation to document re-entry of the rocket's first stage.
The first stage is the part of the rocket that is ignited at launch and burns through the rocket's ascent until it runs out of propellant, at which point it is discarded from the second stage and returns to Earth.
"NASA's interest in building our Mars entry, descent and landing capability and SpaceX's interest in an experimental operation of a reusable space transportation system enabled acquisition of these data at low cost, without standing up a dedicated flight project of its own," said Charles Campbell, PDT project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston in the US.