NASA flying saucer test for Mars mission successful
US space agency NASA has successfully launched a saucer-shaped vehicle that could one day help humans land on Mars.
The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) took off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The LDSD was initially carried up by a helium balloon, which detached after rocket boosters were ignited, taking the ship 34 miles up into the sky with four times the speed of sound.
The vehicle was also fitted with two new atmospheric braking systems. As the LDSD prepared to descend back to Earth, an inflatable tube around the ship expanded, creating an atmospheric drag to slow the vehicle down.
A 110-foot-wide parachute was then released, guiding the vehicle to its ocean splashdown. However, the parachute did not fully deploy and appeared tangled as it emerged.
This parachute is twice the size of the one that carried the one-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011.
Despite the parachute problems, the $150 million (£88m) experiment is deemed a success by NASA officials. They believe the technology will one day help astronauts land on the red planet.
NASA engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Dan Coatta said: “What we just saw was a really good test.”
Further flights are planned next year. Analysing their results along with today’s launch will help the space agency decide whether to use the LDSD and parachute on a future mission to Mars.
In a pre-launch news conference in early June, project manager of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mark Adler stated: “We want to test them here where it’s cheaper before we send it to Mars to make sure that it’s going to work there.”
Michael Gazarik, head of space technology, at NASA headquarters said: “The technology envelope needs to be pushed or else humanity will not be able to fly beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit. Technology development is the surest path to Mars.”