NASA just built their very own UFO, and they’re planning on launching it as soon as they can get their shit together
NASA is planning on sending a flying saucer to Mars… and they’re testing it right now.
The UFO, technically called a Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), is scheduled for a launch this week in Hawaii in order to perform a series of tests in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, should weather permit. A live feed can be viewed here.
The LDSD is a saucer-shaped rocket-powered test vehicle designed for the benefit of future Mars missions, which will pave the way for human exploration. It will investigate breakthrough technologies for decelerating from high speed atmospheric reentry to the final stages of landing.
During the anticipated test flight, the LDSD will be carried from the Naval facility to an altitude of about 120,000 feet by a helium-filled balloon where it will be dropped and will fire a solid-fueled rocket engine to carry it up an additional 60,000 feet. At 180,000 feet, the atmospheric density of Earth is most similar to the atmosphere of Mars. Once in Earth’s upper stratosphere high above the Pacific, the LDSD will perform a series of automated tests.
Anyone with Internet access can watch the live video feed relayed from the vehicle to the ground during the test. The low-resolution images are expected to show the saucer dropping away from its balloon mothership and then rocketing to the very edge of the stratosphere.
Current decelerating technology dates back to 1976 during NASA’s Viking Program, which successfully landed two probes on Mars. The basic parachute design of the Viking missions has been in use ever since, including delivery of the Curiosity rover to Mars’ surface in 2012. However, the system has reached its limit of the amount of mass it can deliver to Mars. LDSD will allow for delivery of heavier spacecraft and larger payloads to the surface of the Red Planet than is capable with current technology, blazing a trail for eventual human exploration.
Landing on Mars is a tricky task. It’s unlike Earth, which has a dense atmosphere, or the moon, which has no atmosphere. The environment of Mars is somewhere between the two: too much atmosphere to allow rockets to land vehicles by themselves, as is done on the moon, but too little atmosphere to land vehicles from space via friction and parachutes alone, as is done on Earth.
Because of the thin atmosphere, parachutes for Mars-bound surface craft must be much larger than those used on Earth, and even with these large parachutes powerful retro rockets or rugged airbags have been required to complete landing. Until a new landing technique is proven to work, landing at high elevations, such as Mars’ mountainous regions or the high-altitude southern plains, will remain inaccessible.
LDSD was built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and was shipped to the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii for final assembly. It was expected to launch last week but was put on hold due to weather conditions.
“This first test is a true experimental flight test,” said Ian Clark, the LDSD principal investigator from JPL. “Our goal is to get this first-of-its-kind test vehicle to operate correctly at very high speeds and very high altitudes.”
A great deal will be learned even if the tests fail to meet expected results, and the LDSD is a huge breakthrough in itself.
“We are pushing the envelope on what we know,” Clark said. “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.”