Sunday, June 1, 2014

NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD): Rocket-powered, Saucer-shaped test vehicle

Next week, NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project will fly a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. 

This experimental flight test is designed to investigate breakthrough technologies to benefit future Mars missions, including those involving human exploration.

Three weeks of testing, simulations and rehearsals are planned before the first launch opportunity on the morning of June 3.

LDSD was built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and shipped to Kauai for final assembly and preparations.

"Our Supersonic Flight Dynamics Test Vehicle number 1 arrived at the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on April 17," said Mark Adler, project manager of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project from JPL. "Since then, we have been preparing it for flight."

"One of the last big assemblies occurred on April 30, when we mated the vehicle with its Star-48 booster rocket."

During the June experimental flight test, a balloon will carry the test vehicle from the Hawaii Navy facility to an altitude of about 120,000 feet.

There, it will be dropped and its booster rocket will quickly kick in and carry it to 180,000 feet, accelerating to Mach 4.

Once in the very rarified air high above the Pacific, the saucer will begin a series of automated tests of two breakthrough technologies.

To get larger payloads to Mars, and to pave the way for future human explorers, cutting-edge technologies like LDSD are critical.

Mark Adler (L), LDSD Technology Demonstration Mission Manager chats with Jeffrey Sheehy (R), Senior Technical Officer of Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

Among other applications, this new space technology will enable delivery of the supplies and materials needed for long-duration missions to the Red Planet.

The upper layers of Earth’s stratosphere are the most similar environment available to match the properties of the thin atmosphere of Mars.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) mission developed this test method to ensure the best prospects for effective testing of the new and improved technologies here on Earth.

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