NASA has gathered thermal images of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it descended to Earth and plans to use the engineering data for future Mars exploration efforts.
NASA’s team at the Hampton, Virginia-based Langley Research Center used the WB-57 twin jet engine aircraft and the U.S. Navy‘s NP-3D Orion aircraft to capture thermal images of the descent, NASA said Friday.
“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,” said Robert Braun, principal investigator for NASA’s Propulsive Descent Technologies project.
“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,” Braun added.
The space agency also monitored changes in the smoke plume as the engines went on and offline.
The research effort is funded through NASA’s Game Changing Development program.