NASA’s ambitious road to Mars goes to Hawaii, and if the weather there cooperates, the live action can be seen when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers deploy their “flying saucer” in the thin air located above the Pacific Ocean.
The flying saucer isn’t calculated to carry humans and to ferry them about the Red Planet upon arrival. It will, instead, play an influential role in getting them safely to Mar’s surface.
All of NASA’s rovers and landers sent to Mars since the touchdown of the first Viking probe in 1976 used parachutes to slow their descent. But the space agency’s parachutes alone won’t cut anything heavier than the Curiosity probe.
That is the reason behind why the flying saucer was built. Officially named Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, it resembles a 15 feet giant pie. When it hurls to Mars at Mach 3, its diameter will expand to 20 feet by inflating the ring around its circumference. This additional surface area, thus create drag to lower down the speed of the LDSD.
When the saucer slows to a Mach 2.4, the LDSD will deploy its gigantic supersonic parachute, which measures more than a hundred feet across.
About 22 miles over the Hawaiian islands is a virtual wind tunnel, so the JPL team is testing the gargantuan contraption over there.
Earth’s stratosphere is akin to Mars’ atmosphere at that height, making it suitable for a test flight.
The main thing NASA engineers will test this time is the design of their new parachute.
Mounted cameras on the LDSD that will look at the parachute as it hopefully opens. A second camera will keep an eye on the lanyards of the chute as it separates from the vehicle.