Washington: The US space agency, NASA Friday announced it has successfully captured thermal images of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on its descent that may provide critical engineering information for future missions to the surface of Mars.
The rocket was launched in September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The agency equipped 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.
During its return, or descent, NASA captured quality infrared and high definition images and monitored changes in the smoke plume as the engines were turned on and off.
“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 and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
“This is the first high-fidelity data set of a rocket system firing into its direction of travel while traveling 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,” he added.
SpaceX, a private US spaceflight company was awarded a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract by NASA in 2006 to design and demonstrate a launch system to resupply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, the company flown four missions to the ISS.
In September this year, Boeing and SpaceX won a $6.8 billion NASA contract to develop, test and fly space taxis and to carry US astronauts into orbit.
Spacex was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. The company has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones.
The company is developing the Falcon Heavy, which will be the world's most powerful rocket.