If you see a flying saucer in the skies over Hawaii over the next several days, don’t panic, it’s probably one of ours. Weather permitting, Engineers and scientists from NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project are about to test a new technology for landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary surfaces at various times Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
The objective of an experimental flight test, planned for June 2014, is to see if the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) cutting-edge, rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle operates as it was designed in near space at high Mach numbers.
The tests will occur above the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. LDSD will gather data about landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary surfaces, according to NASA.
“The agency is moving forward and getting ready for Mars as part of NASA’s Evolvable Mars campaign,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for space technology at NASA headquarters in Washington. “We fly, we learn, we fly again. We have two more vehicles in the works for next year.”
“The LDSD project aims to see if the cutting-edge test vehicle operates as designed in near space at high Mach numbers,” NASA said.
During the test, a balloon will carry the LDSD vehicle from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, to an altitude of about 36.5 km.There, it will be dropped and its booster rocket will quickly kick in and carry it to 55 km, accelerating to Mach 4.
Since the 1970s, NASA has used the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers as they streak through the thin Martian atmosphere. With plans to send heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts, the space agency needs a much stronger parachute. NASA is testing the technology high in Earth’s atmosphere because conditions there are similar to that of Mars. High winds at the Kauai military range forced NASA to miss its original two-week launch window in June.
“The success of this experimental test flight will be measured by the success of the test vehicle to launch and fly its flight profile as advertised. If our flying saucer hits its speed and altitude targets, it will be a great day,” said Mark Adler, LDSD project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“The saucer will ascend to test altitude of about 120,000 feet via a helium balloon that would fit snugly into Pasadena’s Rose Bowl,” Adler said. “At that altitude, it will be dropped and a booster rocket will carry it some 60,000 feet higher as it accelerates to Mach 4.”
“The goal is to get to an altitude and velocity that simulates the kind of environment NASA vehicles would encounter flying in the Martian atmosphere”, said Ian Clark, principal investigator of the LDSD project at JPL. “We top out at about 180,000 feet and Mach 4. Then, as we slow down to Mach 3.8, we deploy the first of two new atmospheric braking systems,” Clark said.
A key component of the braking system is the largest supersonic parachute ever flown that will quickly slow the vehicle to Mach 2.5. About 45 minutes later, the saucer is expected to make a controlled landing onto the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii.
The vehicle originally was scheduled for its first test flight earlier in June but less than ideal weather conditions prevented the launch, NASA said.
The test will be carried live via Ustream and simulcast on NASA Television. The new potential launch dates are Saturday through July 1 and July 3.
You can watch the flying saucer vehicle test live stream by going to their official link here.