NASA Launches Flying Saucer for Tests of Mars Entry Technology

In this artist's concept, NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator test vehicle is accelerated to the edge of space to test an inflatable braking system and a huge new supersonic parachute that engineers hope will pave the way to landing larger payloads on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA)

In this artist’s concept, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator test vehicle is accelerated to the edge of space to test an inflatable braking system and a huge new supersonic parachute that engineers hope will pave the way to landing larger payloads on the surface of Mars. (Credit: NASA)

For CBS Space News, William Harwood writes: A giant helium balloon lifted a 3.5-ton flying saucer-shaped research vehicle to an altitude of more than 23 miles Saturday and released it for a dramatic rocket-powered boost through the extreme upper atmosphere to test an inflatable doughnut-like braking system and a huge supersonic parachute needed for future missions to Mars.

The inflatable aero-brake appeared to work normally in live video downlinked from the test vehicle, but the parachute, the largest ever built for deployment at more than twice the speed of sound, failed to fully inflate in a disappointment for flight controllers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“PI (principle investigator) has called ‘no chute.’ We don’t have full chute inflation,” a flight controller reported.

Three views of the experimental Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator showing the test vehicle with its braking parachute deployed along with before-and-after views of the craft's inflatable braking system. (Credit: NASA)

Three views of the experimental Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator showing the test vehicle with its braking parachute deployed along with before-and-after views of the craft’s inflatable braking system. (Credit: NASA)

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator then fell toward impact in the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii. The carrier balloon apparently came apart after the LDSD’s release and it was not immediately clear what recovery crews standing by in the landing zone might be able to retrieve.

In any case, the test flight appeared to meet all of its major objectives but one and engineers are hopeful recorded telemetry will shed light on what went wrong with the parachute deploy.
“Our objectives for this first flight are to launch it from here, get the balloon off and out over the water, to get it up to altitude where we can drop the vehicle and conduct this powered flight and get the data back from it to see how it works,” Mark Adler, LDSD project manager at JPL, said before launch.

He stressed the test flight was just that, a test flight, and any number of things could go wrong. But “if we fire that motor and we get data back from it, that is a great day. That way we can learn exactly what happened and understand what to do for our next flights.”

The idea was to put the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator in the thin extreme upper atmosphere, at a velocity of more than four times the speed of sound, to mimic the conditions a Mars-bound spacecraft might experience slamming into the atmosphere of Mars…(read more)

CBS – Space News


One Comment on “NASA Launches Flying Saucer for Tests of Mars Entry Technology”

  1. […] By Pundit from another Planet For CBS Space News, William Harwood writes: A giant helium balloon lifted a 3.5-ton flying saucer-shaped research vehicle to an altitude of more than 23 miles Saturday and released it for a dramatic rocket-powered boost through the extreme upper atmosphere to test an inflatable doughnut-like braking system and a huge supersonic parachute needed for future missions to […] Like this? Read more and get your own subscription at […]


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