NASA has finally been able to send up their new and improved rocket powered flying saucer, which was made to test technologies that can get heavy payloads onto Mars someday. NASA’s flying saucer going to Mars test has been delayed due to weather conditions that occurred the first week of June over the Pacific; however, now that the wind and clouds are just right the space agency sent its flying saucer into the sky today (June 8) in the early morning and late afternoon, off of the U.S. Pacific Missile Range Facility located in Kauai, Hawaii.
The saucer is a low density supersonic decelerator (LDSD). It has a very strong parachute and doughnut shaped cushion known as Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) designed to slow down spacecraft landings. The missile was launched at 7:45 a.m. Hawaiian time (1:45 p.m. ET) with a high altitude balloon.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ustream and NASA television launched the viewing of the test, and there are updated posts on NASA’s LDSD Blog and the space agency’s twitter feed @NASA_Technology. NASA’s flying saucer carries the high altitude balloon 120,000 feet into the air, and drops it. The LDSD fires a solid-fueled rocket and takes off into the air at 180,000 feet a few seconds after the drop. The LDSD travels at the speed Mach 4, which is said to be four times the speed of sound.
While the saucer ascends out into space something happened to the balloon that is slowly descending back to Earth’s surface. The SIAD is inflated to a diameter of 20 feet, and its design of slowing down the spacecraft takes the Mach speed down from 3 to 2.4. As it slows down, the Mach speed the test parachute begins to make the descent speed slower, allowing the LDSD platform to gently fall into the Pacific for recovery.
The space agency has been testing the LDSD since 2014, and lots of progress has been made. The inflatable drag field was the focus of the first testing in 2014. In the beginning the parachute tore itself apart. Investigator principal for LDSD effort at JPL, Ian Clark told sources, “the redesign of the parachute focuses on the material to be more robust, and stronger.”
The flying saucer project cost the space agency, $230 million of budgeting that took three years to gather for the development of the system. The drag device is said to carry up to 3-tons of payloads to and from Mars. Although many of today’s technologies limited NASA’s payloads, the development worked out fine for their previous developments of rovers.
In 2012, the space company’s technology device called the Curiosity rover was a success, and the company also plans to launch a rover in 2020 . However, the drag devices are not required for future missions of landing humans on Mars. The devices are also not currently capable for landing payloads that are considered high-value on high-level elevations on the planet. The space agency is currently testing technologies to make the landings happen in the near future.
The space agency’s first test run of the flying saucer was a success, but the second test run did not go so well. Full details of what caused the parachute to tear during the second launch of the flying saucer has yet to be determined. However, based off of the results of the landing, scientists have found that firing the rocket engine was fine and it accelerated into Mach 4 except something went wrong in the revamp chute.
Despite the second test not going well, members of the launch team told sources, they still received more than enough information to help them improve their spacecrafts. NASA’s flying saucer launched on June 8 was a success for the space agency during the first test run, now that they have figured out how to make a gentle landing on the surface of the Pacific.
By Krystle Mitchell
Space.com: Supersonic Parachute on NASA
NBC News: NASA flying saucer test flight
Endgadget: NASA readies Mars flying saucer
Photo Courtesy of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License