NASA’s ‘Flying Saucer’ in near-space success

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator will aid future landings on Mars

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The balloon hovering above carried the LDSD to an altitude of 120,000ft.

It’s already achieved notoriety thanks to its uncanny resemblance to a Roswell-era flying saucer, but now new footage released by NASA awards its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project scientific merit too after the experimental vehicle completed a successful test flight at 180,000ft.

Launched from Hawaii on 28 June, the LDSD was carried into near-space by a balloon before on board rocket boosters propelled the test vehicle from 120,000 to 180,000ft. At this altitude, NASA scientists were able to test the LDSD in a scenario similar to what it will face on approach to Mars - its intended destination.

The ultimate goal of the flight was to see whether the current LDSD design could reach the altitudes and airspeeds needed to test the two projects on board.

The first, the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, is a large air brake that gives the LDSD its flying saucer shape and is used to slow the vehicle from 3.8 to 2 times the speed of sound. The second instrument on board during the test flight was the Supersonic Disksail Parachute - the largest supersonic parachute ever built.

NASA hopes the LDSD will provide safer, slower and more controlled landings for future probes destined for the Red Planet.

Although the parachute was unable to withstand the immense strains put upon it during re-entry, the mission’s primary goal was a success.

"As far as I am concerned, whenever you get to ride shotgun on a rocket-powered flying saucer, it is a good day," said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  

"We hope the video will show everyone how beautiful and awesome the test was, and to just to give folks an insight into what experimental flight test is all about."


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