[meteorite-list] NASA's 'Flying Saucer' Readies for First Test Flight
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 2 Jun 2014 13:16:52 -0700 (PDT)
June 2, 2014
NASA's 'Flying Saucer' Readies for First Test Flight
NASA's flying saucer-shaped test vehicle is ready to take to the skies from
the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, for its
first engineering shakeout flight.
The first launch opportunity for the test vehicle is June 3, when the launch
window opens at 8:30 a.m. HST. The test will be carried live on NASA TV and
streamed on the Web. The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) will
gather data about landing heavy payloads on Mars and other planetary
"The agency is moving forward and getting ready for Mars as part of NASA's
Evolvable Mars campaign," said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for
Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We fly, we learn, we
fly again. We have two more vehicles in the works for next year."
As NASA plans increasingly ambitious robotic missions to Mars, laying the
groundwork for even more complex human science expeditions to come,
accommodating extended stays for explorers on the Martian surface will
require larger and heavier spacecraft.
The objective of the LDSD project is to see if the cutting-edge,
rocket-powered test vehicle operates as it was designed -- in near-space at
high Mach numbers.
"After years of imagination, engineering and hard work, we soon will get to
see our Keiki o ka honua, our 'boy from Earth,' show us its stuff," said Mark
Adler, project manager for the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator at NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "The success of this
experimental test flight will be measured by the success of the test vehicle
to launch and fly its flight profile as advertised. If our flying saucer hits
its speed and altitude targets, it will be a great day."
The way NASA's saucer climbs to test altitude is almost as distinctive as the
test vehicle itself.
"We use a helium balloon -- that, when fully inflated, would fit snugly into
Pasadena's Rose Bowl -- to lift our vehicle to 120,000 feet," said Adler.
"From there we drop it for about one and a half seconds. After that, it's all
about going higher and faster -- and then it's about putting on the brakes."
A fraction of a second after dropping from the balloon, and a few feet below
it, four small rocket motors will fire to spin up and gyroscopically
stabilize the saucer. A half second later, a Star 48B long-nozzle,
solid-fueled rocket engine will kick in with 17,500 pounds of thrust, sending
the test vehicle to the edge of the stratosphere.
"Our goal is to get to an altitude and velocity which simulates the kind of
environment one of our vehicles would encounter when it would fly in the
Martian atmosphere," said Ian Clark, principal investigator of the LDSD
project at JPL. "We top out at about 180,000 feet and Mach 4. Then, as we
slow down to Mach 3.8, we deploy the first of two new atmospheric braking
The project management team decided also to fly the two supersonic
decelerator technologies that will be thoroughly tested during two LDSD
flight tests next year.
If this year's test vehicle flies as expected, the LDSD team may get a
treasure-trove of data on how the 6-meter supersonic inflatable aerodynamic
decelerator (SIAD-R) and the supersonic parachute operate a full year ahead
The SIAD-R, essentially an inflatable doughnut that increases the vehicle's
size and, as a result, its drag, is deployed at about Mach 3.8. It will
quickly slow the vehicle to Mach 2.5 where the parachute, the largest
supersonic parachute ever flown, first hits the supersonic flow. About 45
minutes later, the saucer is expected to make a controlled landing onto the
Pacific Ocean off Hawaii.
NASA TV will carry live images and commentary of LDSD engineering test. The
test vehicle itself carries several onboard cameras. It is expected that
video of selected portions of the test, including the rocket-powered ascent,
will be downlinked during the commentary. Websites streaming live video of
the test include:
For more information about LDSD, visit:
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LDSD
mission, a cooperative effort led by JPL. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville, Alabama, manages LDSD within the Technology Demonstration
Mission Program Office. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is
coordinating support with the Pacific Missile Range Facility and providing
the balloon systems for the LDSD test.
david.steitz at nasa.gov
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
agle at jpl.nasa.gov
Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii
stefan.alford at navy.mil
Received on Mon 02 Jun 2014 04:16:52 PM PDT