NASA is gearing up to test its long-awaited test launch of the largest parachute ever deployed in the sky with its flying saucer ahead of its possible landing technology on Mars surface in 2017.
The flying saucer, not to be confused with the flying unidentified objects (UFO), is named the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, and the live telecast is available on NASA TV at 1:30 pm (1730 GMT).
The saucer has been made extra strong to withstand the thin Mars atmosphere that makes landing a space mission difficult. Moreover, the fast-moving spacecraft should be brought to touch down at a slower speed with the parachute.
The US NASA has been working on this project for over a decade and its earlier Viking mission had put two landers on Mars in 1976. Now that NASA is planning manned mission to Mars in the late 2020s and early 2030s, the test today gains more importance.
The new generation parachute, known as the Supersonic Ringsail Parachute, has been designed to allow heavier spacecraft that is expected to carry not only humans but also huge supply of food and materials for longer stay on Mars.
“We want to see if the chute can successfully deploy and decelerate the test vehicle while it is in supersonic flight,” said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Weighing about 6,808 pounds (3,088 kgs), the parachute mission is double the weight of the landrovers sent to Mars in the past. Billed as “the largest parachute ever deployed,” it measures 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter, to “slow the entry vehicle from Mach 2 to subsonic speeds.”
Resembling a flying saucer, the inner-tube shaped decelerator will lift-off to an altitude of 120,000 feet (37 km) over the Pacific Ocean with the help of a giant balloon that will release the spacecraft and rockets take over to lift the vehicle further to a height of 180,000 feet (55 km), reaching supersonic speeds.
“Traveling 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.
Last time, a model Supersonic Disksail was tested in the 2014 but it failed to inflate and exploded in pieces due to high speed and altitude. Today’s flight is the second and after its success, another parachute test flight will be undertaken next year.