Nasa prepares to test its Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (aka "flying saucer")

 
Emma Haslett
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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope - it's a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (Source: Nasa)

Remember Nasa's "flying saucer" (aka "Low Density Supersonic Decelerator", aka "LDSD"), which could land us all on Mars? After months of development, the US space agency is finally getting ready to try it out.

The LDSD was developed to "investigate and test" technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions and safely returning large loads to Earth. Although it looks like a UFO, it's actually more like a massive parachute - a way to land safely on planets, rather than hurtling through space.

Today, Nasa will launch a high-altitude balloon carrying the LDSD at 1.30pm East Coast time (that's 5.30pm here). The balloon will carry it to 120,000ft, at which point the LDSD will drop away "and the rocket-powered portion of the flight begins".


The LDSD gets ready for its big day (Source: Nasa)

The test will include the deployment of the similarly catchily-titled Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), including "the largest supersonic parachute ever flown", which will deploy at Mach 2.35 (ie. fast).

The best part? The whole thing's being streamed live - although, as Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory, pointed out, "it may be hard to see because the transmitted video is low resolution".

"We hope to be able to make it out," he added, hopefully.

Ah, glorious low resolution. Good to know the agency responsible for one day ferrying people to other planets is at the forefront of cutting-edge technology....

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