Not to be piloted by little green men, NASA will soon be testing its own ‘flying saucer’ landing spacecraft for future Mars missions with human and robotic explorers.
Known as the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), the craft will gather data about landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary surfaces.
The design of the craft being more familiar to science fiction fans, the LDSD is hoping to investigate how the astronauts of the future will be able to travel to the red planet and beyond as they will require much larger payloads and pieces of equipment if they are to spend years in space for prolonged periods of time.
It is envisaged that when the craft descends from its original parent craft, a balloon parachute will gently lower it to an optimum height.
A fraction of a second after dropping from this balloon, and a few feet below it, four small rocket motors will fire to spin up and gyroscopically stabilize the saucer.
A half second later, a solid-fueled rocket engine will kick in with 8,000kg of thrust, sending the test vehicle to the edge of the stratosphere.
Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said of the impending: “After years of imagination, engineering and hard work, we soon will get to see our Keiki o ka honua, our 'boy from Earth,' show us its stuff.
“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."