NASA Unveils LDSD, A Flying Saucer Destined For Mars
NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) looks like a flying saucer from the sci-fi movies of the 1950's, but it could soon be travelling on a very real interplanetary mission. It is hoped that NASA's LDSD technology can help safely deliver a new wave of robotic craft to the surface of planetary bodies like Mars.
As a NASA release states:
"Current technology for decelerating from the high speed of atmospheric entry to the final stages of landing on Mars dates back to NASA's Viking Program, which put two landers on Mars in 1976,"
This reliance upon a comparatively ancient delivery method is what the LDSD program was borne out of.
Future robotic missions to Mars are expected to be far heavier than those of the past, heavier even than the one ton Curiosity mission. NASA's solution, LDSD, consists of an inflatable drag device, which comes in two sizes and can reduce a payload's speed from around Mach 3.5 to at least Mach 2.
The second component of the LDSD mission is the development of a huge 31.5m supersonic parachute that will not only slow the craft down to subsonic speeds, but will also deploy from a higher altitudes, opening up the possibility of exploring previously unreachable parts of the planet. This new supersonic parachute's hefty size means it is too large to test in standard wind tunnels, therefore testing has to be carried out using rocket sleds like this. All that size comes with a benefit though. Weighing in at 300 pounds, this new supersonic is able to produce upwards of 150,000 pounds worth of drag.
NASA's JPL opened up LDSD to the media today, giving reporters a look at the saucer-shaped technology ahead of a planned supersonic test flight on June. If all goes to plan, LDSD could deploy to Mars as soon as 2018.