NASA readies ‘flying saucer’ Mars parachute for first test flight

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Rovers and robotic landers have traveled to Mars using similar parachute design for several decades. However, the space agency requires a stronger and bigger parachute if astronauts are send to the red planet.

The space agency has five chances to launch Low Density Supersonic Decelerator from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. It will get its next chance coming Thursday, followed by other launches on 7, 9, 11 and 13 June.

If the weather remains stable, a high-altitude helium balloon will carry LDSD 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The LDSD will fire solid-fuel rocket booster, and soar to 34 miles, where the atmosphere is similar to the red planet.NASA-Readies-Flying-Saucer-for-First-Test-Flight

The main constituents of the vehicle are a 100-foot wide supersonic parachute, and an 18-foot inflatable decelerator ring called SIAD-R.

As LDSD drops to Earth at four times the speed of sound, the massive parachute and SIAS must come out one at a time, and lead it to proper ocean landing.

NASA had last tested a supersonic parachute some 40 years back, therefore there are several questions that need to be answered. How the parachute and SIAD will inflate and deploy in the thin atmosphere of the red planet, and are they strong enough to last in the extreme climate?

The location for LDSD testing was chosen as Pacific Missile Range Facility because of its unlimited airspace and extensive leeway of the military base.

It must be noted that the largest payload that has been landed on the red planet till date was the rover Curiosity in 2012 at one metric ton. Furthermore, the technology involved in LDSD will allow heavier payloads to land on Mars in the future.