JPL to test new supersonic decelerator technology

Dec 18, 2013
A 100-foot diameter packed-parachute, bridles and lines are readied into position for a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test that occurred at the U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake earlier this year. A similar packed parachute in both size and material will be used at the mesa test on Dec 18, 2013 at JPL. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) —A giant crane will tower above NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., shooting out of a hilly mesa like an oversized erector set, ready to help test components of NASA's Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. The goal of the challenging technology, led by JPL, is to enable a future mission to Mars or other planetary bodies that uses heavier spacecraft and lands them at locations that were previously not achievable.

The crane-test is scheduled for tomorrow, Dec. 18, weather permitting. The test will simulate the acceleration of a large parachute being pulled away from a spacecraft. The purpose of the test is to show that all of the parachute lines and bridles come out in an organized manner and do not catch on other vehicle hardware as they are deployed.

Validation tests are crucial to working out the kinks before a system of this type is used for future space missions. During this test, the parachute, which has a diameter of roughly 100 feet (30.5 meters), will not open. Its size is a significant upgrade by comparison to parachutes that have come before it. For instance, last year's successful landing of NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover utilized a parachute that measured only 51 feet (15.5 meters) across, about half the size.

The heavier planetary landers of the future require much larger drag devices than any now in use to slow them down—and those next-generation drag devices will need to be deployed at higher supersonic speeds to safely land a vehicle, plus crew and cargo for potential human missions.

Current Mars landing techniques date back to NASA's Viking mission, which put two landers on Mars in 1976. That mission's basic design has been in use ever since, with additional landing technologies, and was used again in 2012 to deliver the Curiosity rover to Mars. To conduct more massive exploration missions in the future, however, NASA must advance the technology to a new level of sophistication.

Testing for the LDSD project began in 2012 at the U.S. Navy's China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California and will be conducted through 2015.

In the next few years, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator Technology Demonstration Mission will conduct full-scale, stratospheric tests of these breakthrough technologies high above Earth to prove their value for future space exploration missions.

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA fires up rocket sled hardware at China Lake

Mar 30, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA recently performed a trial run on a rocket sled test fixture, powered by rockets, to replicate the forces a supersonic spacecraft would experience prior to landing.

Landing is key puzzle in Mars trip, experts say

May 08, 2013

Landing astronauts safely on Mars is one of the biggest technological hurdles for any future manned mission to the Red Planet, even more complicated than last year's daring rover touchdown.

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.