It looks like some alien flying saucer, but it did not come from outer space. NASA’s saucer-shaped test vehicle is the creation of experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in nearby La Cañada Flintridge. Scientists hope it will lead to future missions on Mars involving human exploration. The aircraft is called the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. It’s designed for a number of functions including “… the delivery of the supplies and materials needed for long-duration missions to the Red Planet.”
Final assembly of the rocket-powered vehicle has just been completed at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. A series tests, simulations, and rehearsals are planned over the next three weeks. If that goes well, the LDSD is scheduled for its first launch on June 3.
During the experimental flight, a balloon will lift the test vehicle from the Hawaii Navy facility to an altitude of about 120,000 feet. Then, it will be dropped and the vehicle’s booster rocket will kick in and carry it to 180,000 feet. Once at that level, the vehicle will perform some high-tech tests. The plan is to stream live video on the Internet from the test vehicle during the June flight.
Two more of these saucer-like vehicles reportedly are in the “pipeline” and scheduled for testing in the summer of 2015.