NASA’s has a project that looks like it had its beginnings in the 1950’s.  The NASA team plans to fly a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped landing technology test vehicle into near-space from a U.S. Navy Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii.  The project is called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD).

NASA's test of the craft will be groundwork for future Mars missions.

NASA’s test of the craft will be groundwork for future Mars missions.

The original test flight date was on 3rd June but bad weather hampered the launch.  “Due to weather conditions, there will be no launch of the LDSD test vehicle Thursday, June 5. Other potential launch dates include June 7, 9, 11 and 14. The decision to move forward with another launch attempt of the LDSD test is made the day before each launch opportunity date.”

Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington said, “The agency is moving forward and getting ready for Mars as part of NASA’s Evolvable Mars campaign.”

As growth of the space program continues, NASA is planning ambitious robotic missions to Mars, thereby laying the foundation for human science expeditions in the future.  The objective of the LDSD project is to ascertain if the rocket-powered test vehicle operates as it was designed to.

Mark Adler, project manager for the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, “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…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…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…If our flying saucer hits its speed and altitude targets, it will be a great day,” says Adler.

A fraction of a second after dropping from the helium balloon, four small rockets will fire to spin up and gyroscopically stabilize the saucer shaped craft. Half second later, a Star 48B long-nozzle, solid-fuelled rocket engine will ignite with 17,500 pounds of thrust.  This thrust will then send the test vehicle to the edge of the stratosphere.

Ian Clark, principal investigator of the LDSD projects at JPL said, “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…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 systems.”

NASA has identified five potential launch dates for the high-altitude balloon carrying the LDSD project: June 28, 29, 30, July 1, 3. The launch window for Saturday, June 28 extends from 8:15 to 9:30 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PDT / 2:15 to 3:30 p.m. EDT).  The test will be carried live via Ustream and simulcast on NASA Television.

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[Image via ksbw]