A saucer-shaped test vehicle holding equipment for landing large payloads on Mars is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kaua‘i, Hawaii. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's latest experimental test vehicle looks like the classic UFO of science fiction film fame. The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project, "a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle, has completed final assembly at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii."
During [a forthcoming] June experimental flight test, a balloon will carry the test vehicle from the Hawaii Navy facility to an altitude of about 120,000 feet. There, it will be dropped and its booster rocket will quickly kick in and carry it to 180,000 feet, accelerating to Mach 4. Once in the very rarified air high above the Pacific, the saucer will begin a series of automated tests of two breakthrough technologies.
In order to get larger payloads to Mars, and to pave the way for future human explorers, cutting-edge technologies like LDSD are critical. Among other applications, this new space technology will enable delivery of the supplies and materials needed for long-duration missions to the Red Planet.
So, a flying saucer, and the acronym looks like LSD at first glance. Sweet.
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