NASA’s test run of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) was a success. The Project Manager for LDSD Mark Adler was “thrilled” about Saturday’s test.

“The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives. We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data recorders and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights,” Adler said in a press release.

Saturday’s test was the first of three as NASA looks for new ways to slow the descent of heavy spacecraft through Mars’ atmosphere. On Saturday, a massive balloon carried the 7,000 pound test vehicle up 23 miles. The vehicle was then released and an onboard rocket boosted the vehicle to Mach 4.

Why take it up so high? The thinner atmosphere at high altitudes is a better representation of Mars’ atmosphere.

Besides using saucer-like devices to increase drag, the LDSD project is also developing the biggest supersonic parachute ever flown. It’s 100 feet wide. One of the chutes didn’t deploy on Saturday’s test, which caused the hard landing in the Pacific.

Officials weren’t planning on officially testing the parachute on Saturday’s test anyways.

“Because our vehicle flew so well, we had the chance to earn ‘extra credit’ points with the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator [SIAD],” Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL, said in the release. “All indications are that the SIAD deployed flawlessly, and because of that, we got the opportunity to test the second technology, the enormous supersonic parachute, which is almost a year ahead of schedule.”

NASA officials are excited because if the tests continue to be successful, bigger payloads can be shipped to Mars. Clark said earlier this month that the LDSD tech could double payloads. Imagine a rover twice as big as Curiosity heading to Mars.


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