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NASA tests Mars landing technology

After splashing into the ocean, a Mars-related test vehicle is lifted aboard a recovery ship.
After splashing into the ocean, a Mars-related test vehicle is lifted aboard a recovery ship.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

A saucer-shaped vehicle that is trying out landing technology for future Mars missions completed its first flight test June 28, NASA said.

The agency said the outcome was positive overall but included one notable glitch. The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) vehicle successfully deployed a doughnut-shaped tube called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator. And while a large parachute, the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute, successfully extended itself from the LDSD vehicle, it did not fully inflate. NASA is trying to determine why the parachute did not expand as planned, an agency spokesman said.

The test, which occurred over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, began when a helium balloon carried the vehicle to an altitude of 120,000 feet, where the atmosphere is thin like that of Mars. The rocket-powered vehicle separated from the balloon and underwent powered flight before deploying the tube and parachute and splashing into the ocean.

Video of the test can be viewed here.

The test is the first of three for the LDSD project. The other two flights are slated for early next year.

“In order to get larger payloads to Mars, and to pave the way for future human explorers, cutting-edge technologies like LDSD are critical,” NASA said. “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 test came three days after the co-chairs of a National Research Council report testified before the House Science Committee that NASA’s human space flight budget, which is now flat, needs to rise by more than the inflation rate to achieve a manned mission to Mars.