NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project successfully flew a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space in late June from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.
The goal of this experimental flight test was to figure out of the balloon-launched rocket-powered, saucer-shaped design could obtain altitudes and speeds needed to test the two new breakthrough technologies for future missions to Mars.
Two cutting edge technologies scheduled to be tested in 2015 aboard the same type of test vehicle were carried as payload during the shakeout flight.
NASA's Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) is a big, doughnut-shaped air brake that deployed during the flight. It helped slow the vehicle from 3.8 to 2 times the speed of sound, according to the space agency.
The second, the Supersonic Diskasail Parachute, is the largest supersonic parachute ever flown, according to NASA. I has more than double the area of the parachute, which used for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission that carried the Curiosity rover to Mars.
"A good test is one where there are no surprises but a great test is one where you are able to learn new things, and that is certainly what we have in this case." said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, according to a NASA press release. "Our test vehicle performed as advertised. The SIAD and ballute, which extracted the parachute, also performed beyond expectations. We also got significant insight into the fundamental physics of parachute inflation. We are literally re-writing the books on high-speed parachute operations, and we are doing it a year ahead of schedule."
A number of high-definition video cameras hitched a ride on the 7,000-pound saucer, providing engineers and scientists on the LDSD project never before seen sights into the dynamics involved with flying such a vehicle at high altitudes and Mach numbers.
Click here to see the high-resolution images and video clips taken during the test flight.
"As far as I am concerned, whenever you get to ride shotgun on a rocket-powered flying saucer, it is a good day," said Clark. "We hope the video will show everyone how beautiful and awesome the test was, and to just to give folks an insight into what experimental flight test is all about."
In the future, two more Kauai flights are scheduled to represent the first supersonic parachute tests for NASA re-entry missions in more than 40 years, according to NASA.