Weather conditions in the Pacific have caused high waves, delaying the test of NASA’s saucer-shaped vehicle.
The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) was due to to be undergo testing today. The LDSD test involves the largest parachute ever deployed, and is crucial to future plans to send large spaceships to land on Mars.
NASA’s test repeatedly delayed due to ocean conditions
Should conditions improve, the test will go ahead at 1.30 p.m. EDT and NASA will broadcast a live stream on its website. “The ocean wave height continues to be an issue for the crew that would recover the vehicle and its data after splashdown,” NASA said. Previous tests scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday were also postponed due to ocean conditions.
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Given the low density of the Martian atmosphere, the parachute that will be used to slow down a large, heavy spacecraft needs to be very strong. Existing deceleration technology has been in use since the Viking mission which put two landers on the Red Planet in 1976.
Now that NASA plans to send manned missions to Mars within 20 years, the space agency needs to develop new and improved parachute technology that is capable of safely decelerating heavier, manned vehicles.
Vital step in sending manned missions to Mars
The Supersonic Ringsail Parachute is NASA’s attempt at improving on the Viking design. “We want to see if the chute can successfully deploy and decelerate the test vehicle while it is in supersonic flight,” read a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The parachute measures 30 meters across, and NASA describes it as “the largest parachute ever deployed.” The saucer-shaped test vehicle weighs 3088 kilograms, and will be taken to an altitude of 37 kilometers using a huge balloon. The test involves the saucer, the decelerator and the parachute, which will be boosted to an altitude of 55,000 meters using rockets on board the craft, which will propel it to supersonic speeds.
“Travelling at three times the speed of sound, the saucer’s decelerator will inflate, slowing the vehicle, and then a parachute will deploy at 2.35 times the speed of sound to carry it to the ocean’s surface,” NASA said.
The test is crucial to the possibility of sending larger, manned spaceships to land on Mars, and it is a shame that weather conditions have prevented the launch thus far.