NASA tested the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) in Hawaii yesterday, and many are referring to the vehicle as a flying saucer. The craft certainly does have the rounded disk shape of the classic science fiction trope, albeit with a large rocket nozzle sticking out of the middle. During NASA’s Saturday morning test the LDSD was carried 20 miles above the Earth by a balloon, where it was then released as its rockets fired up. The self-powered flight carried the LDSD over 30 miles above the earth and to speeds beyond Mach 3.
The first stages of the test went perfectly,both the ascent and acceleration, and the first stage of deceleration, a round tube device designed to be the initial slow down for the craft. The final parachute however did not deploy as intended, getting tangled during its first test. After a 30-minute test the LDSD finished its flight in the Pacific ocean. Aside from the problem with the parachute NASA says that the test was successful, an encouraging step towards new projects that may include the future study and even colonization of Mars.
Without the LDSD, landing spacecraft require large amounts of fuel to be expended, slowing the capsule and cargo’s descent in atmospheres that provide little to no friction. Once the LDSD is fully functional it will allow NASA to save millions of dollars on fuel costs, as well as carry more cargo on missions. The testing on NASA’s so-called flying saucer could take a few more years, however. Based on information gathered on Saturday, more tests on the LDSD are planned to take place next year. Tests will be part of preparations for planned missions to Mars. The rover Curiosity has been on Mars for a year now and NASA wants to be able to bring more equipment, and eventually people, to the Red Planet. Not only will the LDSD save fuel and make room for cargo and passengers, it will allow for softer landings suitable for astronauts and maybe even lead to landings ready for non-NASA passengers in the future.
Along with continued work on the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, NASA will soon be launching a satellite with the purpose of studying global climate change and its causes. NASA attempted to launch the same type of satellite back in 2009, but before the rocket could breach the atmosphere it crashed into the waters of Antarctica. The same satellite will be launched on a different and much more expensive rocket with updated parts. The satellite will measure carbon dioxide levels in the air and not only will NASA be collecting valuable information, but plan on making it available to the public, which could be a major step in encouraging people to be more responsible in taking care of the environment. This satellite does not require any further testing like NASA’s flying saucer LDSD, so it will beat the spacecraft deceleration system to outer space. Both, however, are important tools for the future of space travel and earth itself.
By Matt Isaacs