Update: NASA has again delayed the launch of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) due to unfavorable weather conditions. According to Mark Adler, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator project manager and Ian Clark, principal investigator on the project, “There were six total opportunities to test the vehicle, and the delay of all six opportunities was caused by weather,” said Adler. “We needed the mid-level winds between 15,000 and 60,000 feet 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.” NASA is now looking at late June for the next launch opportunity.
NASA scientists are ready to test a brand new saucer-shaped space ship that would be part of any deep space missions i.e. a manned mission to Mars. NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project, a rocket-powered, “flying saucer” pictured here, has undergone 3 weeks of testing and was supposed to have undergone its initial launch on June 3rd. However, the test was delayed until today, June 5th due to adverse weather conditions.
NASA will launch the rocket by balloon to an altitude of 120,000 feet (36,576m) at which time it will be released. It’s booster rocket will then carry it to an altitude of 180,000 feet (54,864m), the very edge of the stratosphere. It will be traveling at Mach 4 or 4 times the speed of sound. There it will undergo a series of tests. The first such test according to NASA, will include the deployment of “an inflatable Kevlar tube around itself, called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD). After the SIAD inflates, the test vehicle will deploy a mammoth parachute called the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute.” The LDSD is completely a new technology so there are no expectations other than to see of the technology functions properly. Ian Clark, the LDSD principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained, “This first test is a true experimental flight test. Our goal is to get this first-of-its-kind test vehicle to operate correctly at very high speeds and very high altitudes. ” Clark continued, “We are pushing the envelope on what we know. We are accepting higher risk with these test flights than we would with a space mission, such as the Mars Science Laboratory. We will learn a great deal even if these tests, conducted here in Earth’s atmosphere at relatively low-cost, fail to meet some of the mission objectives.”
Most importantly, NASA is innovating; experimenting with new technology that will drive us further into space. Technology that will be necessary if we are ever to realize the goal of a manned mission to Mars. For too long the space program has been stagnant. Yes the Mars missions have improved greatly over the last several decades culminating with the Rover deployment on the red planet but manned space flight has stagnated. If this test and technology proves successful, it opens an entirely new window for man to conceivably reach the goal of inter-planetary space flight. The test of the LDSD can be viewed live by anyone with internet access.