Hawaii to Witness the Launch of NASA’s ‘Flying Saucer’

With a view to checking the suitability of the technology to push payloads up to 2 to 3 ton to the Martian surface, scientists at NASA are to pilot test their rocket-powered ‘flying saucer’ this Monday from Hawaii.

The launch that was set for June 2 had to be delayed owing to the waves in the Pacific, which were too high to ensure the safety of the crewmembers. The crew had to recover the saucer-shaped Low Density Supersonic Decelerator or LDSD after splashdown. Monday, being the first day with conditions acceptable for the launch, was chosen by NASA.

The project entails the launch of a high-altitude balloon from the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai at 7:30 AM Hawaii time. This giant balloon will have aboard the saucer-shaped LDSD, which would further house a doughnut-shaped cushion called the SIAD (Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator) and a super-strong parachute, both designed to decelerate the spacecraft during its descend through the Martian atmosphere.

The LDSD descent system has a three-year budget of $230 million. Initially, the balloon would push the LDSD to a height of 120,000 feet, following which the decelerator would shoot its solid-fueled rocket. Thereafter, it would gain a height of 180,000 feet, before beginning its descent. The descent is going to be a spectacular sight with the SIAD slowing the craft’s speed and ensuring a smooth landing over the Pacific Ocean.

The live coverage of the launch can be caught on NASA Television and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Ustream channel.