Hawaii is going to have its skies become the scene of something out of a science fiction movie, as NASA will test its flying saucer-shaped Mars landing vehicle there this week. On Monday, NASA reported that it wants to find a safe and reliable way to land humans and heavy payloads on the surface of Mars and other planets.
NASA: Official Name for Their Flying Saucer is a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD)
A rose might be still a rose by any other name, but does the same apply to flying saucers? Though NASA officially calls their landing vehicle a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), it still looks suspiciously like a flying saucer.
Whatever you prefer to call the NASA planetary landing vehicle, it’s set to launch from Kaua. The LDSD was originally planned to take off in the early morning, Hawaii time, at 8:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. ET), but according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, bad weather has forced the launch to be postponed until Thursday morning.
According to NASA, the LDSD vehicle will be first used to land robotic probes on Mars. Then, if everything works the way NASA officials plan, the LDSD will later on send humans to live on the surface of Mars for extended periods of time.
NASA is not just on schedule to accomplish this ultimate goal; it is a year ahead of schedule. A huge balloon containing 34 million cubic feet of helium, the size of the Rose Bowl stadium, will carry the LDSD to a height of 120,000 feet, where it will be dropped. Testing can only be done if the wind is blowing in the right direction to carry the balloon where NASA wants it to go.
Four small rockets will fire and stabilize the flying saucer-shaped LDSD after it free falls for around 1.5 seconds. Then, after the LDSD gets stabilized enough, the vehicle’s main solid-fuel Star 488 rocket engine will fire up. According to NASA, the rocket engine will take the LDSD “to the edge of the stratosphere.”
According to Ian Clark, principal investigator of the LDSD project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, after the LDSD attains an altitude of 180,000 feet and a speed of Mach 4, the speed will decrease to Mach 3.8, when “we deploy the first of two new atmospheric braking systems.”
One of the new braking systems is the SIAD-R, or Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator. It’s 6 meters in length, is shaped like a doughnut and is designed to increase drag and lower the speed of the LDSD to Mach 2.5. The other braking device, a gigantic supersonic parachute made of Kevlar with a special coating so that it can withstand high temperatures, will then be deployed. About 45 minutes later, the LDSD will make a controlled landing in the Pacific Ocean.
If you are a resident of Hawaii, and see an UFO in the skies overhead this Thursday, don’t worry; you’re not seeing things, and it’s not the beginning of an alien invasion. It will just be NASA, testing out the flying saucer-shaped LDSD, in preparation for one day in the future when…humans invade Mars.
Written by: Douglas Cobb