A novel inflatable shield to burn off speed worked but the test
fell apart when a massive parachute, intended to guide the saucer to
a splashdown in the ocean, failed to inflate properly.
“This is an opportunity for us to take a look at the data, learn
what happened and apply that to the next test,” NASA engineer Dan
Coatta, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
said during an interview on NASA Television.
"That’s a more valuable experience for us than if everything had
gone perfectly,” he said. The balloon – big enough to fill the Rose
Bowl football stadium in Pasadena, California – lifted off at 2:40
p.m. EDT (1840 GMT) and reached its designated altitude 120,000 feet
(36,576 meters) above the Pacific Ocean about 2.5 hours later.
The launch, which had been delayed six times this month because of
unsuitable weather, and the test were broadcast live on NASA
The saucer-shaped Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD,
successfully separated from the balloon and fired up its rocket
motor, reaching speeds of 3,000 mph (4,828 kph) – roughly four times
the speed of sound.
That set the stage for the real point of the test – collecting
engineering data on a novel doughnut-shaped structure designed to
quickly unfold, inflate and slow the craft’s descent. The LDSD also
held a massive supersonic parachute – the largest NASA has ever
tested – that was to guide the craft to a controlled re-entry into
the Pacific Ocean.
The 110-foot-diameter (34-meter) parachute failed to properly
inflate, however, engineers monitoring the test said.
[to top of second column]
Recovery teams were standing by to pick up all the equipment
splashing down in the ocean.
The point of the test flight was to put a prototype landing system
through conditions that would be experienced on Mars.
“When we’re actually going to use it for real, it’s going to be on a
spacecraft, entering the atmosphere of Mars at thousands of miles
per hour, so we have to come up with some way on Earth to simulate
that condition in order to prove that these things work,” Coatta
The test is part of a larger technology-developing initiative to
prepare to send heavier rovers and eventually human habitats to
NASA is spending about $200 million on the five-year project, which
began in 2010. LDSD’s next test is scheduled for next summer.
(Editing by Bill Trott)
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