NASA's Flying Saucer Takes A Supersonic Flight [Video]
In June, NASA sent a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle 190,000 feet above the Earth. The vehicle was accelerated to nearly four times the speed of sound and then was deployed with two new braking technologies aimed at future Mars missions.
The launched vehicle is the first of three planned experimental flight tests under NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). The agency sought to determine if the balloon-launched saucer could even reach the altitudes and speeds needed to test the new technologies in the first place.
The flight test was an emphatic success, experts said.
"A good test is one where there are no surprises but a great test is one where you are able to learn new things, and that is certainly what we have in this case," said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD in a statement. "Our test vehicle performed as advertised. The SIAD and ballute, which extracted the parachute, also performed beyond expectations."
The two cutting-edge technologies employed and successfully tested were the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) - a large, doughnut-shaped air brake - and the Supersonic Disksail Parachute, the largest supersonic parachute ever flown.
"We also got significant insight into the fundamental physics of parachute inflation," said Clark. "We are literally re-writing the books on high-speed parachute operations, and we are doing it a year ahead of schedule."