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Flying Saucer Videos Reveal What Worked and What Didn’t

The researchers behind June's test flight of an interplanetary landing system say an inflatable "flying saucer" structure worked well enough to be used on Mars — and they know how to fine-tune the parachute that tore itself apart over the Pacific Ocean. Videos from the first high-altitude test of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, conducted from a missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, made their debut on Friday during a NASA news conference about the project.

To duplicate conditions at the top of Mars' thin atmosphere, the LDSD platform was lofted to a height of 180,000 feet using a balloon and a solid rocket. As the craft fell at supersonic speeds, it inflated a 20-foot-wide "inner tube" to increase its drag, and then deployed a parachute. NASA judged June's test to be successful even though the parachute failed. "This flight was really just a shakeout flight," principal investigator Ian Clark said. For the next test, scheduled in mid-2015, the parachute will be given a rounder shape and skeletal reinforcements will be added, he said.

JPL: Saucer Flight Was a Success 1:57
JPL: Test results were 'Phenomonal' 1:29
JPL: More To Learn About Supersonic Parachute Inflation 2:09

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— Alan Boyle