Nasa 'flying saucer' tests Mars tech

Video cameras captured the launch and most of the flight

Related Stories

A US space agency (Nasa) experiment on Saturday to test future Mars landing technologies proved largely successful.

A flying saucer-shaped vehicle was sent high into the atmosphere via a balloon to trial a new type of parachute and an inflatable Kevlar ring that could help slow down a spacecraft as it approaches the Red Planet's surface.

All of the equipment appeared to work apart from the parachute, which failed to deploy fully.

The experiment was sent up from Hawaii.

Nasa hopes the lessons learned will enable it put heavier payloads on Mars in the decades ahead.

The current limit is about one-and-a-half tonnes.

Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) Artist's impression: A rocket motor was used to shoot the vehicle up through the stratosphere

If humans are ever to go to the planet, this mass capability will have to rise to well beyond 10 tonnes.

Saturday's test vehicle, known as the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), ditched in the Pacific after its flight.

Teams were despatched to try to locate the demonstrator so that its data recorder could be recovered.

This will give engineers the most detailed information on what precisely happened during the experiment.

Video cameras on the ground and on the LDSD captured most of the flight.

The helium balloon was launched from the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai at just after 08:40 local time (18:40 GMT).

It took over two hours to raise the saucer-shaped vehicle to roughly 35km (120,000ft), whereupon it was released.

A rocket motor then kicked the LDSD on up through the stratosphere to above 50km (160,000ft), and to a velocity of Mach 4 (four times the speed of sound) - the sort of conditions a spacecraft approaching Mars might encounter.

Balloon The LDSD was released almost three hours after its carrier balloon left the ground

As the vehicle began to slow, it deployed the first of its two new atmospheric braking systems.

This first system was a 6m (20ft) inflatable "doughnut". It enlarged the LDSD's girth and so will have slowed the saucer further by increasing the amount of drag it experienced.

The second braking system, however, did not come out properly.

Upward-looking video showed the 30m-diameter supersonic parachute failing to unfurl correctly.

Nasa engineers said before the test that they would gather valuable data whether the technologies on the LDSD worked properly or not.

The project hopes to return to Hawaii next year to conduct two further test flights.

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Science & Environment stories


Features & Analysis

  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?

  • A cow wearing sunglasses overlaid with the phrase 'Can't touch this'Cow row

    Thousands rally against the ban on beef in India

  • Dana Lone HillDana Lone Hill

    The Native American names that break Facebook rules

BBC Future

(Getty Images)

What it’s really like to die

The seven experiences you face at the end


  • Former al-Qaeda double agent Aimen DeanHARDtalk Watch

    Islamic State is about revenge says former al-Qaeda member turned spy Aimen Dean

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.