NASA Plans to Test Flying Saucer Over Hawaii

By Carl Engelking | June 3, 2014 12:33 pm
flying saucer

A saucer-shaped test vehicle for landing large payloads on Mars is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kaua‘i, Hawaii. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In an effort to design spacecraft tailored for missions to Mars, scientists at NASA are taking a page right out of your run-of-the-mill science fiction novel: The space agency is preparing to test a flying saucer.

Technically, NASA’s new toy is called the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), and scientists plan to test-drive the craft Thursday in Hawaii. (Other potential launch dates include June 7, 9, 11, and 14.) The LDSD will collect data about landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary surfaces.

Rising High and Falling

Scientists will use a gigantic helium balloon — about as large as the Rose Bowl when fully inflated — to float the LDSD to an altitude of about 23 miles above the islands. Then, the balloon and vehicle will separate, signaling four small motors to fire and gyroscopically stabilize the saucer. After that, a larger rocket engine will kick in and propel the craft into the stratosphere at a clip four times the speed of sound.

After that speed boost, scientists will deploy two new braking technologies — essentially an inflatable doughnut — to slow the ship down. It will eventually parachute back to Earth to make an ocean landing in the Pacific, logging a round trip of about 45 minutes.

Scientists say success will be measured in the spacecraft’s ability to hit its speed and altitude targets and generally fly as advertised.

Watch the Launch

The rarified air up high in the stratosphere is the closest earthly match to the atmosphere of Mars. In order to send humans and cargo to Mars, braking and landing technologies will be crucial.

NASA plans to broadcast the test flight with several onboard cameras and live commentary from engineers, and the launch window opens at 8:30 a.m. Hawaiian time (2:30pm EDT) Thursday. You can watch the test live below.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mars, space exploration
  • Jerry Drummond

    I just learned that one Ed Cheung was the chief engineer of
    the Hubble Space Telescope. Is this the same Ed Cheung
    who was a test technician at Edicon, a subsidiary of Kodak,
    in 1990 and 1991? The same SOB who I caught repeatedly
    breaking into my computer to steal the automated test software
    that I was developing under OS2? The same Ed Cheung I
    caught breaking into Darryl Dana’s computer and hacking
    the software to keep him from completing his work? Then
    went back and reversed the damage to look like a hero
    and ensure Dana’s loyalty.

    I am not talking about hacking into our work stations, I mean
    physically logging onto our pcs, with passwords provided
    by his girlfriend in network. Is this the rat ba*tard now
    running systems at NASA? The same ba*tard who drugged our
    food to steal technology? THAT ED CHEUNG? No wonder their
    hot damned probes were crashing into Mars and their hot damn
    space shuttles were blowing up, their chief engineers are total
    frauds.

    You want to know how the Chinese are hacking into your systems
    and stealing your technology? You’ve got a f*cking Chinese spy
    for a Chief NASA Engineer! Dumb*$$ Obama

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