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.
— Alan Boyle