NASA will launch a saucer-shaped test vehicle holding equipment for landing large payloads on Mars. An inflatable decelerator and a parachute will be tested at high altitudes and speeds over the Pacific Missile Range today.
Broadcast live streaming video. Launch window opens at 8:15 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (USA: 11:15 a.m. PDT/2:15 p.m. EDT) (Europe: 19:15 GMT, 20:15 CEST).
High winds over Hawaiin delayed the launch of a NASA saucer-shaped Mars landing test vehicle until tonight. The space agency was forced to scrub six launch attempts over the past two weeks — the latest and last planned for this Saturday (June 28) — as a result of unusually poor wind conditions at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range facility in Kauai, Hawaii.
The balloon-launched Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) craft is intended to help NASA develop the means to land heavier spacecraft, and eventually humans, on Mars. "All of the vehicle systems [and] our team were ready and prepared for all of the launch days; we were ready to go," said Mark Adler, LDSD project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "The only thing that held us up was that none of the launch dates had or will have acceptable weather conditions."
"We have managed to negotiate with the range for the possibility of some additional days later in the month," Adler told Space.com during a call with reporters Thursday. "We're seeing in the long-term forecast, which isn't very reliable at this point, but we are seeing some significant changes in the weather patterns toward the end of the month that could indicate we would have some good days."
NASA readies for the experimental flight of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD).
The wind conditions are crucial for safely launching the rocket-powered LDSD test vehicle, which is to be lofted to 120,000 feet high (36,600 meters) under a huge helium balloon. "We [cannot] have very high winds near the ground so that the balloon is able to be launched and not be damaged by the winds," Adler explained. "We also have to have conditions where the higher level winds [will] take the balloon away from populated areas."
Once at altitude, the 6,800-pound (3,084-kilogram) saucer-shaped craft is designed to drop from the balloon and, a fraction of a second later, ignite a solid-fueled rocket engine to propel it to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. There, the conditions simulate the kind of environment a future spacecraft will encounter when flying in the Martian atmosphere.
The LDSD then deploys a device called a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD), essentially an inflatable doughnut, which increases the vehicle's size and, as a result, its drag. Slowing from Mach 3.8 to Mach 2.5, a 100-foot-wide (30.5 meters) parachute — the largest supersonic parachute ever flown — is deployed. The saucer will ultimately splash down in the Pacific Ocean off of the Hawaiian Islands to be recovered. (Source)
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