Yes, a flying saucer. On Wednesday, NASA will be live broadcasting the launch and flight test of one of its craziest sounding prototypes, a test originally scheduled for Tuesday.
It was postponed because today’s ocean conditions wouldn’t allow the rescue mission to safely recover the craft after the flight. NASA has loaded the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) on a large weather balloon which will act as a launcher.
The technology used to design the LDSD – edge-of-atmosphere and supersonic – carries the agency’s hopes that one day will make missions on Mars possible. If the test works, the flying saucer will prove to be more suitable for future Mars missions because it will enable a safer surface landing for great payloads.
At the same time, the craft’s design will allow astronauts a better access to the rest of the planet because it is able to land said payloads at various altitudes, as high as necessary. A successful flight test will improve the chances of advancing robotic science missions on the Red Planet.
Moreover, complex human expeditions will stand a better chance of becoming reality, as the heavy gear necessary for survival will finally have an appropriate means of transportation.
On Wednesday, the plan is to track the weather balloon carrying the LDSD as high as 120,000 feet (36,576 meters). The ascent will take over two hours; the first 30 minutes after launch, NASA will offer live feed from ground tracking cameras.
After this mark, four cameras located above the test craft will take over the broadcast, with images of considerably lower resolution. Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the world will be able to see the same video feed as the scientists, at exactly the same time.
This year’s challenge is to test the new model of supersonic parachute. Its performance will be caught on tape by one of the four cameras, as each of them will show a different perspective of the test.
Even though the resolution is low, Adler hopes this fourth camera will catch the exact moment of the deployment of supersonic parachute. There was another test last year, and the model of the parachute they had did not perform very well.
But with the great number of improvements the mission team has brought to the design also come great hopes of getting it to finally work on this test. If you’re interests in checking how it works, head to NASA TV or on JPL’s Ustream channel.
Don’t be disappointed if you can’t really make out what happens in the low-res imagery transmitted on the spot. NASA promised that high-res video will follow in the next few days with feed collected from the cameras onboard the LDSD.
Image Source: South China Morning Post