Watch This Prototype Mars Spacecraft Spin During A Supersonic Test

NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) during a June 2014 test flight. Credit: NASA/YouTube (screenshot)

Feeling dizzy? This is what the view looked like from NASA’s next-generation Mars spacecraft as the flying saucer-shaped vehicle did a test in June.

According to the agency, the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) met all of its test objectives even though the parachute didn’t deploy as planned. And in a briefing today (Aug. 8), agency officials said they have a plan to deal with the issue for the next flight, which will be in summer 2015.

“We are going to change the shape. We are going to have some structural reinforcements to make it stronger in areas that it is particularly sensitive, to
improve deployment of parachute,” said Ian Clark, the principal investigator of LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

With every robotic Mars mission, it appears, NASA is trying to land bigger and bigger payloads on the surface of the planet. That’s because the rovers have become more powerful over time. The latest vehicle, the Mars Science Laboratory (better known as Curiosity) included a unique crane system that was so innovative that NASA dubbed the final landing sequence “seven minutes of terror.

The LDSD test in late June saw the craft soar to 120,000 feet (36,576 meters). The vehicle was then cut from the balloon at this altitude, which has densities similar to what you would expect in the upper Mars atmosphere, to see how it would do during a simulated descent to the Red Planet.

“We’re really happy. We have tons and tons of data,” said Mark Adler, the project manager for LDSD at JPL. “Nothing makes us happier than data.”

Besides the busted parachute, officials said the test showed the vehicle was performing to expectations — and sometimes, even better than expected. The shape held within 1/8 of an inch (0.32 cm), which they said was very good for a 20-foot (6-meter) vehicle. Drag and stability happened as they thought. The balloon that deployed the parachute also did well, they said.

A timeline of events for a test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A timeline of events for a test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The parachute, however, developed tears very close to the beginning of its deployment, which officials said was due to a lack of understanding about how parachutes perform at supersonic velocities.

While the LDSD has not been assigned to a particular mission yet, officials said it would be useful to land missions more accurately on the Red Planet in spots that would be more difficult to reach. It also would be useful for a future human mission, whenever that happens, because the equivalent of “two-storey condominiums”would be needed, said Adler.

The project has been in the works since September 2010, and this summer’s test occurred a year ahead of schedule.

NASA Deems Flying Saucer Test A Success Despite Failed Parachute

A recovery vessel lifts the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator aboard after its June 28, 2014 test over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although the parachute didn’t pop out during a flight test this weekend of NASA’s flying-saucer shaped prototype spacecraft for future Mars exploration, the agency says the so-called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator performed to expectations.

In an update released yesterday (June 30), one day after the craft made a hard landing in the Pacific, the agency noted that every goal on the flight had been met. The nature of the parachute failure is being investigated; the parachute was a year ahead of schedule in its development, according to NASA.

“The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives,” stated Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data recorders and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights.”

The flight test (which had been delayed for some time due to weather) saw LDSD soar into the sky on a high-altitude balloon launch that took it up to 120,000 feet (36,576 meters). As planned, the test vehicle was severed from the balloon to see how well it would perform during a simulated descent to the Martian surface.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) soars into the sky during a test flight June 28, 2014 (invisible at top of contrail) while its carrier balloon floats in the frame. Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) soars into the sky during a test flight June 28, 2014 (invisible at top of contrail) while its carrier balloon floats in the frame. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With Martian spacecraft getting heavier, NASA is testing out new technologies to control spacecraft during the landing that would safely be able to navigate the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere. This test was supposed to see the LDSD leave the balloon while spinning sideways (somewhat like a football) and zoom to four times the speed of sound.

Next, it was supposed to deploy a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator to slow down to 2.5 Mach (speed of sound) and then pop the parachute. The SIAD did inflate as planned, but not the parachute.

“All indications are that the SIAD deployed flawlessly, and because of that, we got the opportunity to test the second technology, the enormous supersonic parachute, which is almost a year ahead of schedule,” stated Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL.

This was the first of three planned test flights for LDSD, and the next one is expected to go up in 2015. In an unrelated test, NASA successfully deployed parachutes for its Orion spacecraft prototype for humans in a complex manuever last week.

Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA’s Saucer-Shaped Mars Vehicle Idea Loses Flight Test ‘Window’ Due To Weather

Artist's impression of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has lost its reserved time at a range in Hawaii to test a saucer-shaped vehicle that one day could help spacecraft get on the Red Planet safely.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) was supposed to take to the air this month, but bad weather means that officials won’t get to test the vehicle’s flight and landing abilities before their range time expires tomorrow (Saturday).

The plan had been to test LDSD’s new inflatable technology, which would put a buffer around its heat shield to slow the speed down when it was still high in the atmosphere. NASA wanted to send the test device up on a weather balloon to 120,000 feet (36,600 meters) before releasing it for a short powered flight to 180,000 feet (54,900 meters). LDSD would then inflate the device and subsequently, open up a large parachute for the drop to Earth. Now it looks like that won’t happen until later this month.

“There were six total opportunities to test the vehicle, and the delay of all six opportunities was caused by weather,” stated Mark Adler, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project manager. “We needed the mid-level winds between 15,000 and 60,000 feet [4,500 meters to 18,230 meters] to take the balloon away from the island. While there were a few days that were very close, none of the days had the proper wind conditions.”

A timeline of events for a test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A timeline of events for a test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While officials don’t know when they will next get time at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, Hawaii, they’re hoping to start the testing near the end of June. NASA emphasized that the bad weather was quite unexpected, as the team had spent two years looking at wind conditions worldwide and determined Kauai was the best spot for both the wind and also doing the test over the ocean, away from where people live.

If the technology works, NASA says it will be useful for landing heavier spacecraft on the Red Planet. This is one of the challenges the agency must surmount if it launches human missions to the planet, which would require more equipment and living supplies than the rover missions currently roaming the Martian surface.

For more information on LDSD, check out this past Universe Today article and the NASA website.

NASA’s Mars Landing Idea Will Take To The Air In June

No rocket sleds were harmed in the making of this video. (NASA/JPL)

So what does an agency like NASA do after making a daring new type of landing with the Mars Curiosity rover? Try to make it even better for next time.

NASA is readying a new technology for landing on the Red Planet that is supposed to help brake the spacecraft in the atmosphere by inflating a buffer around the heat shield to slow things down. And after testing this so-called “Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator” on a rocket sled in January and April, the team is ready for the next major test: heading aloft.

As early as June 3, NASA will strap a test device below a high-altitude balloon and send it up to 120,000 feet — about the same altitude that Felix Baumgartner jumped from in 2012. The device will then drop from the balloon sideways, spinning like a football, and reach a velocity of four times the speed of sound. Then the LDSD will inflate, if all goes as planned, and NASA will evaluate how well it performs.

The agency hopes to use this technology to land heavier and heavier spacecraft on the Red Planet. If the testing goes as scheduled and the funding is available, NASA plans to use an LDSD on a spacecraft as early as 2018.

You can read more about LDSD at this website.

Foom! Flaming Rocket Sled Tests Parachute For Mars Spacecraft

The "rocket sled" that is a part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Project testing methods to slow spacecraft before they land. Credit: NASA

Watch the video above to the two-minute mark (and beyond) and we guarantee a brilliant start to your Friday. “Enter Sandman” indeed, Metallica. Look past the flames and thrust, however, and you will see a parachute test in action that could help spacecraft land safely on Mars one day.

This is an undated “rocket sled” test of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, a technology aiming to be a more advanced way to bring spacecraft to Mars besides the 1970s-era Viking parachutes that were used as late as the Curiosity mission.

And supersonic flight tests of this technology will take place this year and next, according to NASA. The technology could be used on spacecraft as early as 2018, the agency added.

“NASA seeks to use atmospheric drag as a solution, saving rocket engines and fuel for final maneuvers and landing procedures,” the agency states on the project’s web page. “The heavier planetary landers of tomorrow, however, will 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 vehicle, crew and cargo.”

“One of the tests on my LDSD project, which combines the Navy version of a Blackhawk helicopter, a giant 110 foot parachute, 3000 pounds of rope, a very big pulley, four rockets, and a railroad track in the desert. The test successfully uncovered a design flaw in the parachute before we flew one like it on a much more expensive test — which is exactly what this test was for,” wrote collaborator Mark Adler (a fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was a mission manager for the Spirit rover) on Google Plus.

As part of this project, NASA is testing three devices. The first is a huge parachute (30.5 meters, or 100 feet) that will deploy when the spacecraft is at about 1.5 to 2 times the speed of sound to slow it down.

NASA's Curiosity rover heads for a successful landing Aug. 6 under its parachute. Picture snapped by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's  High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
NASA’s Curiosity rover heads for a successful landing Aug. 6 under its parachute. Picture snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

At faster speeds, NASA also plans inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, which it describes as “very large, durable, balloon-like pressure vessels.” These devices are being tested in two versions: six-meter and eight-meter (19.7 feet and 26.2 feet). They are designed to balloon around the spacecraft to slow it down from 3.5 times the speed of sound to at least twice the speed of sound, if not lower.

“All three devices will be the largest of their kind ever flown at speeds several times greater than the speed of sound,” NASA stated.

The project is a NASA technology demonstration mission led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This test and similar ones were conducted at the conducted at the U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, Calif. More videos and information are available at LDSD’s webpage.

Huge hat-tip to @marsroverdriver for highlighting this on his Twitter account yesterday (Thursday).