Ahead of its launch in Hawaii, NASA warned people that they might see a “flying saucer” in the sky this summer, and after a delay the balloon, which the agency hopes will help land heavy loads in space someday, went up.
On Friday, NASA released information and video showing the test of its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, which occurred on June 28 from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. This test, according to the space agency, was supposed to figure out if the “ balloon-launched, rocket-powered, saucer-shaped, design could reach the altitudes and airspeeds needed to test two new breakthrough technologies destined for future Mars missions.”
“A good test is one where there are no surprises but a great test is one where you are able to learn new things, and that is certainly what we have in this case,” said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD project out of California ”Our test vehicle performed as advertised. The SIAD and ballute, which extracted the parachute, also performed beyond expectations. We also got significant insight into the fundamental physics of parachute inflation. We are literally re-writing the books on high-speed parachute operations, and we are doing it a year ahead of schedule.”
The parachute, which is more than double the area than the one that helped land the billion-dollar Mars rover Curiosity on the Red Planet, experienced a problem during the test in that it virtually disintegrated the moment it deployed, according to NASA.
Along for the ride were many cameras that captured the whole scene.
“As far as I am concerned, whenever you get to ride shotgun on a rocket-powered flying saucer, it is a good day,” Clark told NASA. “We hope the video will show everyone how beautiful and awesome the test was, and to just to give folks an insight into what experimental flight test is all about.”
Watch the footage:
At the Friday news conference, the engineers laid out what they’d learned in six weeks since the $150 million high-altitude test of the vehicle designed to bring spacecraft and eventually astronauts to Mars.
Engineers said they achieved the main objective of their initial test — getting a flying saucer-shaped craft to 190,000 feet above the earth at more than four times the speed of sound.
NASA is planning two other tests for the project.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.