NASA’s LDSD landing system falters during second test

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Yesterday, NASA conducted what some media outlets are referring to as a “partially” successful test of its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) landing system off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. NASA, however, released only a brief statement on its website and plans to release further details in a briefing at 1 PM EDT on Tuesday, June 9:

ldsd-failure

The red arrow shows where the parachute experienced a tear.

Two experimental decelerator technologies – a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator and a supersonic parachute – were tested. The supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator deployed and inflated. The supersonic parachute also deployed; however, it did not perform as expected. Data were obtained on the performance of both innovative braking technologies, and the teams are beginning to study the data.

What we know so far about LDSD’s second test

Early Monday afternoon, a 400-foot wide balloon lifted the LDSD craft high into the atmosphere above Hawaii – about 23 miles above the ocean – a place scientists say contains conditions similar to the atmosphere on Mars. After the 7,000-lb craft was released, its rocket engine propelled it to supersonic speed, enough to carry it over ten more miles high, before the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) slowed it down enough to deploy the massive parachute.

NASA researcher Eric Queen stands in front of the LDSD (nasa.gov)

NASA researcher Eric Queen stands in front of the LDSD (nasa.gov)

According to a few images taken from a camera on-board the LDSD, the supersonic parachute, which is larger than a football field, tore as it was released from the vehicle.

The technology behind the LDSD is part of NASA’s plan to one day land the kind of payloads on the surface of Mars that will be necessary if humans are to spend extended periods of time there or even build a permanent settlement. Such payloads would be far heavier than those that have landed on the Martian surface before: Whereas earlier spacecraft like the Curiosity rover weigh in at around one ton, the kind of payloads required to support human exploration and settlements would be around five times as heavy.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for updates on the NASA briefing, and check out this video on the first LDSD test for more info on this exciting new technology:

Update: June 9, 2015

NASA has released further details about yesterday’s LDSD test flight. According to the press release, the test went as planned until it was time for the supersonic parachute to deploy:

Fourteen seconds after SIAD inflation, the test vehicle’s parachute was released into the supersonic slipstream, according to plan. Preliminary analysis of imagery and other data received during the test indicates the Supersonic Ringsail parachute deployed. This 100-foot-wide parachute is the largest supersonic parachute ever flown. It has more than double the area of the parachute used for the Mars Science Laboratory mission that carried the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars. The chute began to generate large amounts of drag and a tear appeared in the canopy at about the time it was fully inflated.

All hope is not lost, however: LDSD project manager Mark Adler said that NASA engineers “got what they came for,” that is, data that will help them design a better parachute. Once NASA recovers the vehicle, they will be able to examine the ultra-high resolution, high-speed imagery taken by the craft itself. NASA says it will make more comprehensive data and high-resolution images from the second LDSD test flight available in coming weeks.

The LDSD craft hanging from a launch tower in Kauai, Hawaii. (nasa.gov)

The LDSD craft hanging from a launch tower in Kauai, Hawaii. (nasa.gov)

About Author

Adam Cameron spent his academic career learning about Iran, but ultimately decided that a job in the military-security-industrial complex just wasn't for him. He worked with Iranian refugees for a few years and has always dreamed of being a writer. He lives in North Hollywood, California in an 8-bit cocoon made out of an elaborate blanket fort covered in Adventure Time posters.

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