NASA’s new ‘flying saucer’: NASA Flying Saucer

Published: June 2, 2015

NASA’s new ‘flying saucer’: NASA Flying Saucer, NASA NASA is offering the world the opportunity to the watch the launch and test flight of its latest prototype vehicle on Wednesday – a flying saucer.

The space agency is hoping to test its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project, weather permitting, at 1:30 p.m. EDT (10:30 a.m. PDT/7:30 a.m. HST), when the craft will be carried aloft by a large weather balloon. The test was originally scheduled for today, but was postponed due to “unfavourable ocean conditions”, which wouldn’t allow the mission team to safely recover the LDSD after the flight.

The LDSD is designed for supersonic, edge-of-atmosphere braking tech, which NASA hopes to one day deploy in missions to Mars Mars.

The flying saucer is better built for Mars missions because, if it works, it will enable large payloads to be landed safely on the surface and allow access to more of the planet because it can land those payloads at higher-altitude sites.

Bigger payloads and better access means improved robotic science missions to the Red Planet and the possibility for complex human expeditions, supported by the heavy gear they’ll need to survive.

In Wednesday’s test flight, the weather balloon will carry the LDSD to an altitude of 120,000 feet over two hours. NASA will initially keep track of the flight through tracking cameras for around 30 minutes after launch. Twenty minutes later, the broadcast will resume with images from four cameras aboard the test vehicle, showing low-res pics from high over the Pacific Ocean.

“You get to see all the same video I do, at the same time I do,” explained Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

“This year’s test is centred on how our newly-designed supersonic parachute will perform. We think we have a great design ready for the challenge, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding will be made live for everyone to see.”

The four cameras on the craft will provide different perspectives on the test, with two showing the rim of the LDSD and the performance of the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD). A third camera will show the rocket motor firing and Earth’s horizon spinning in the background, along with the deployment of the parachute’s lanyard. While a fourth camera will show the actual deployment of the supersonic parachute.

“What we will be looking most closely for is to see what happens on that fourth camera, when at Mach 2.35 our supersonic parachute is deployed,” said Adler. “It may be hard to see because the transmitted video is low resolution, but we hope to be able to make it out.”

In last year’s test flight, the LDSD and the SIAD worked perfectly, but the parachute did not perform well. This is the largest supersonic parachute ever flown and the mission team has made numerous improvements to the design in the hopes of getting it to work on this test.

The test will be broadcast live on NASA TV and on JPL’s Ustream channel. The low-res imagery transmitted on the day will be supplanted by high-res video in the next few days from the cameras onboard the LDSD.

NASA's new 'flying saucer': NASA Flying Saucer


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