Mars 'flying saucer' splashes down after NASA test (Update)

Jun 29, 2014 by Christopher Weber
This image taken from video provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, to test technology that could be used to land on Mars, Saturday June 28, 2014 in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. (AP Photo/NASA)

NASA has tested new technology designed to bring spacecraft—and one day even astronauts—safely down to Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute got tangled on the way down.

Saturday's $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle. Tests are being conducted at high altitude on Earth to mimic descent through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.

A balloon hauled the saucer-shaped craft 120,000 feet (36,576 meters) into the sky from a Navy missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then, the craft's own rocket boosted it to more than 30 miles high at supersonic speeds.

As the craft prepared to fall back to earth, a doughnut-shaped tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute unfurled—but only partially. The vehicle made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Engineers won't look at the parachute problem as a failure but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests, said NASA engineer Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"In a way, that's a more valuable experience for us than if everything had gone exactly according to plan," he said.

This image provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, to test technology that could be used to land on Mars, Saturday June 28, 2014 in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. (AP Photo/NASA)

A ship was sent to recover a "black box" designed to separate from the vehicle and float. Outfitted with a GPS beacon, the box contains the crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze.

NASA investigators expect to know more once they have analyzed data from the box, which they expect to retrieve Sunday along with the vehicle and parachute. They also expect to recover high resolution video.

This image taken from video provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, to test technology that could be used to land on Mars, Saturday June 28, 2014 in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. (AP Photo/NASA)

"We've got a lot to look at," Ian Clark, principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters on a teleconference.

Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on a parachute to slow landers and rovers.

This image taken from video provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying this saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, Saturday June 28, 2014 in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing technology that could be used to land on Mars. (AP Photo/NASA)

But the latest experiment involved both the drag-inducing device and a parachute that was 110 feet in diameter—twice as large as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover in 2011.

The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kaua'i, Hawaii on June 3, 2014

Cutting-edge technologies are needed to safely land larger payloads on Mars, enabling delivery of supplies and materials "and to pave the way for future human explorers," a NASA statement said.

Technology development "is the surest path to Mars," said Michael Gazarik, head of space technology at NASA headquarters.

Explore further: NASA to test Mars 'flying saucer' vehicle on Earth

4.2 /5 (10 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA to test giant Mars parachute on Earth

Jun 01, 2014

The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet.

NASA's 'flying saucer' readies for first test flight

Jun 03, 2014

(Phys.org) —It only sounds like science fiction. To test a new technology for landing heavy payloads on Mars, NASA is about to drop a flying-saucer shaped vehicle from a helium balloon high above Earth' ...

Recommended for you

Giant crater in Russia's far north sparks mystery

5 hours ago

A vast crater discovered in a remote region of Siberia known to locals as "the end of the world" is causing a sensation in Russia, with a group of scientists being sent to investigate.

NASA Mars spacecraft prepare for close comet flyby

5 hours ago

NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19.

Bacteria manipulate salt to build shelters to hibernate

22 hours ago

For the first time, Spanish researchers have detected an unknown interaction between microorganisms and salt. When Escherichia coli cells are introduced into a droplet of salt water and is left to dry, b ...

How do we terraform Venus?

22 hours ago

It might be possible to terraform Venus some day, when our technology gets good enough. The challenges for Venus are totally different than for Mars. How will we need to fix Venus?

Biomarkers of the deep

Jul 25, 2014

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Spain is a unique geological site that has fascinated astrobiologists for decades. The Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB) in Spain's Río Tinto area is the largest known deposit ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

someone11235813
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2014
Coincidentally the Roswell flying saucer shenannigans were set in motion by a top secret balloon launch.
Returners
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 29, 2014
A one-third scale prototype LDSD ringsail parachute undergoes flow testing in the
80 x 120-foot test section of the National Full-scale Aerodynamics Complex operated by
the U.S. Air Force at NASA Ames Research Center; a full-scale version would envelope
the entire test section when fully inflated.


See if you can find the humor in that quote from the NASA site.

Guys, in spite of the harping I did about the rockets used for the testing, I actually love the overall design of the lander itself.

Full scale test facility with a 1/3rd scale model, because it's not big enough....
freeiam
1 / 5 (4) Jun 29, 2014
A parachute, to land on Mars, wow!
Any landing involving parachutes cannot be taken seriously, Von Broun's idea seems a lot better.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (5) Jun 29, 2014
A parachute, to land on Mars, wow!
Any landing involving parachutes cannot be taken seriously, Von Broun's idea seems a lot better.
Von Braun proposed winged landing vessels. Mars atmosphere is 65 time thinner than earth's; 1.29kg/m^3 vs 0.02kg/m^3. That is earth atmosphere at 30000 meter. So forget about it.