NASA uses parachute systems throughout the solar system to ensure spacecraft land safely on other planetary bodies. One of the most prominent examples is Mars, which NASA has already sent several missions to for scientific study.
Developing a parachute for a place like Mars is a bit different than it is here on Earth. The differences in atmospheric density and makeup mean that NASA needs to design its Martian parachutes differently than they would for Earth’s atmosphere.
Naturally, NASA can’t afford to send test parachutes to Mars every time it begins a new Martian mission, but high up in the Earth’s atmosphere, the conditions aren’t too different from what we’d expect on Mars.
Given the circumstances, NASA sends test parachutes for Mars high up into Earth’s atmosphere and takes measurements as they fall through the sweet spot akin to Mars’s atmosphere. From here, they tweak the design of the parachute and go from there.
Test payloads deployed with rockets enable NASA to develop many parachute types for various payload weights; this improves the efficiency and reliability of the space agency’s interplanetary parachute systems.