NASA flying saucer craft to undergo second test

2 Jun 2015

The LDSD craft ready for testing. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA are preparing for the second test of its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle, due to take place at no later than 6.30pm GMT on 3 June, to see whether it could one day bring heavier payloads to Mars.

Despite NASA itself even calling it a ‘flying saucer’, the craft will not be sent off to the furthest reaches of space using science-fiction technology, but will aid in one day making habitations on Mars possible.

Originally due to launch on 2 June, but delayed because of unfavourable ocean conditions, the craft is set to provide the best test to-date as to whether the LDSD can do what it was designed to do, that being, show it could decelerate a large payload with safety on a planet’s surface.

The plan for the launch will see the LDSD raised to 120,000 feet above the Earth’s surface with the help of a large weather balloon; it will then be dropped, with the craft’s rockets igniting to bring it safely to the surface.

The LDSD parachute

The LDSD parachute. Image via NASA JPL


Throughout, both NASA’s staff on the ground and anyone with an internet connection will be able to view the same video feed, which will be broadcast on Ustream, showing each step of its deployment across its four cameras.

“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 Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“It may be hard to see because the transmitted video is low resolution, but we hope to be able to make it out.”

The JPL team will be hoping to improve on the first LDSD test last year, which saw issues with the deployment of its parachute, the largest supersonic parachute ever flown.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic