Kauai, HI, United States (4E) – NASA on Saturday flight tested a flying saucer-like spacecraft to be used for landing heavy loads in Mars but it was just a half success as the parachute supposed to ease the landing on the Red Planet failed to deploy.
A giant balloon carrying the 7,000-pound Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) was launched from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii at 8:45 a.m. and brought it to the stratosphere to simulate the thin air on Mars, according to NASA officials. At 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, the LDSD was dropped by the balloon around 11:05 a.m. and it fired its rocket to simulate a Mach 4 speed Mars landing.
The first of two landing technologies of the LDSD, the 20-foot and 26-foot-wide Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), deployed or inflated. The second landing gear, the 100-foot-wide Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute, did not deploy.
The SIAD is supposed to reduce the landing of a Mars entry vehicle, similar to the one that carried NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity in August 2012, to Mach 2.5, at which speed the parachute will easily deploy.
The balloon, the size of which can fit a football stadium, and the LDSD splashed into the Pacific Ocean and will be retrieved by NASA engineers to gather and study the recorded test flight data.
NASA will conduct two more test flights for the LDSD until next year. If the SIAD and parachute technologies finally work, NASA will use the LDSD to send to Mars another rover heavier than the one-ton Curiosity or supply for future human explorers to be send to the planet. NASA will also still use the sky crane, which slowly laid down Curiosity to the Martian surface by cable.