NASA says it has successfully test-flown its “flying saucer” – the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) – after meteorological conditions finally permitted the trial on Saturday.
The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator is a re-entry concept for future flights to Mars. The craft works by inflating a “Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator” (SIAD), which NASA describes as a “large, doughnut-shaped first deceleration technology that deployed during the flight.” The doughnut is actually a balloon-like “pressure vessel” that, by embiggening, increases friction to slow a payload while also cushioning it from atmospheric phenomena.
Lifted from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai by a massive 963,000m3 helium-filled balloon – large enough when fully inflated to “fit snugly into Pasadena’s Rose Bowl” – the vehicle released at 36,500m and was then blasted to 55,000m and Mach 4 by a ATK Star 48B solid fuel thruster.
The test mostly went well, although the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute didn’t deploy properly.
NASA boffins have been trying to test LDSD for a few weeks now, but winds have not permitted the balloon that lifts the craft aloft to be released. That changed this weekend and despite the ‘chute problems, those involved in the mission are beaming, especially because the SDSP is said to be a year ahead of schedule. ®