NASA is hopeful that if all goes as planned, their engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory would be able to test their “flying saucer” above the Hawaiian Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Officially called the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, the flying saucer measures 15 feet wide and resembles a giant pie. It will expand its diameter to 20 feet by inflating a ring around its circumference. After the ring is inflated and the saucer slows down to deploy its huge supersonic parachute, measuring more than 100 feet across.
This huge contraption is not designed for human carriage to Mars nor is it designed to ferry them around the Red Planet upon arrival. Instead, it will play a vital role in getting humans and all of their gear, safely to the Martian surface.
Last year’s test confirmed that the Hawaiian stratosphere could be a viable stand in for the Martian atmosphere. It showed the inflatable doughnut also known as the supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD) could slow a heavy payload.
But the parachute failed to deploy, instead tearing as it was unfurled. The LDSD plummeted into the ocean, as a result.
NASA engineers will be testing this time their new parachute design. A camera is mounted to the LDSD that will capture the action as the parachute hopefully opens. A second camera will also monitor the parachute’s lanyards as the chute splits from the vehicle.