NASA announced today that it had delayed again the test flight of its flying-saucer-shaped test vehicle, also known under the name of “the inflatable doughnut,” to Monday (June 8), at around 1.30 p.m. E.T.
The launch, which was initially slated for Tuesday, had been repeatedly delayed due to strong winds sweeping its launch site on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The spacecraft dubbed Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) is designed to carry large payloads to Mars, but NASA engineers currently have no clue whether the new inflatable technology would be successful in a significantly different environment than our planet.
NASA had already successfully landed on Mars Curiosity rover , a robotic probe equipped with scientific tools and cameras that had delighted the world with an exclusive view of our neighboring planet.
If the LDSD is able to successfully land heavier payloads on Mars, a new door would be open for future human missions to the desert planet.
Before landing humans there, robotic crafts need to build a base where explorers would be able to settle in. Thousands of people across the world seemed more than willing to win a one-trip ticket to Mars, when a campaign was launched a couple of months ago.
So, on Monday, supposedly, we will have a real-time show of the first spacecraft that is borne aloft by an inflatable balloon. NASA engineers estimate that the LDSD would separate from the balloon and continue its test flight after a couple of hours following the liftoff.
The space agency announced that it would provide live coverage of the launch and test flight. The LDSD’s main components are a “supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator” (SIAD) and a 100-foot wide parachute that will help it soft land on the Martian soil.
NASA’s current technology doesn’t allow a payload that is heavier than 1 ton to safely land on Mars’ surface. Curiosity rover needed a supersonic spacecraft and a 51-foot-wide parachute to reach the planet with no damage. And that was 2012 technology.
On Monday a 400-foot-wide balloon would raise the LSDS to about 120,000 feet, where the probe’s engines would ignite and help it reach 180,000 feet (about 55,000 m.) There, atmospheric conditions are very similar to the ones on the Red Planet, NASA engineers explained.
At that altitude, its 20-feet wide SIAD will quickly inflate, while the probe would have reached three times the speed of sound. But the super-speed will boost drag which will slow down the vehicle enough so that its 100-foot-wide parachute can deploy. This final stage will end with the LDSD soft splashing into the Pacific Ocean.
Image Source: NASA
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