NASA officials are calling today’s near-space test flight of the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) a success despite the fact that an experimental supersonic parachute failed to deploy during the test, which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The June 28 test was the first of three flights for the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) Technology Demonstration Mission. KDSD is conducting full-scale, stratospheric tests of breakthrough technologies for high-speed re-entry and descent high above Earth to prove their value for future missions to Mars.
LDSD was launched on a high-altitude balloon at 2:45 p.m. EDT from the Hawaiian island facility to begin a two-hour, 23 mile ascent before being released to begin the test. At 5:05 p.m. EDT, the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 5:35 p.m, after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.
“We are thrilled about yesterday’s test,” said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives. We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data recorders and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights.”
This test was the first of three planned for the LDSD project, developed to evaluate new landing technologies for future Mars missions. While this initial test was designed to determine the flying ability of the vehicle, it also deployed two new landing technologies as a bonus. Those landing technologies will be officially tested in the next two flights, involving clones of the saucer-shaped vehicle.
“Because our vehicle flew so well, we had the chance to earn ‘extra credit’ points with the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator [SIAD],” said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL. “All indications are that the SIAD deployed flawlessly, and because of that, we got the opportunity to test the second technology, the enormous supersonic parachute, which is almost a year ahead of schedule.”
The Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) is a large, doughnut-shaped first deceleration technology that deployed during the flight. The second is an enormous parachute (the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute). Imagery downlinked in real-time from the test vehicle indicates that the parachute did not deploy as expected, and the team is still analyzing data on the parachute so that lessons learned can be applied for the next test flights, scheduled for early next year.
Over the past four years, Wallops’ Balloon Program and Range Management Offices have provided support integral to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project.
For example, the Balloon Program Office/Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility provided the newly developed LDSD static launch tower, balloon carrier and balloon flight operations management.
“What was a challenge for this project is that we could not launch the balloon in the typical manner, with a mobile launch vehicle,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA Balloon Program Office Chief. “For safety, given the rocket motor on LDSD, we needed to remove people from the area around the test vehicle. So, we had to design and build a static launch tower – it was the first of its kind.”
After the tower was built, NASA conducted numerous flight tests to verify its operational readiness. On launch day, the new launch tower and balloon performed “flawlessly” placing the test vehicle at the proper drop point over the range for the test, said Fairbrother.
The new landing technologies that were tested in LDSD included the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), resembling a large doughnut, and the Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute.
“All indications are that the SIAD deployed flawlessly, and because of that, we got the opportunity to test the second technology, the enormous supersonic parachute, which is almost a year ahead of schedule,” said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL.
In addition to providing the balloon, the Wallops Range and Mission Management Office provided project management expertise pulling all the Wallops elements together and integrating them with the JPL LDSD project team and Pacific Missile Range Facility. The Wallops Range also arranged for and coordinated the ocean recovery of the LDSD test vehicle, critical flight data recorders, and the balloon.
NASA’s Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate provided the power, instrumentation, communications, and control systems necessary to execute the flight events and engineering data collection. The NASA Wallops Safety Office worked with PMRF Safety to establish the constraints under which the mission could safely be conducted.
The balloon, which weighed 5,132 lbs., lifted the payload and flight train of 7,861 lbs to approximately 120,000 ft. After a powered flight, the experiment splashed down with a total flight time of 3 hours and 35 minutes.
In order to get larger payloads to Mars, and to pave the way for future human explorers, cutting-edge technologies like LDSD are critical. Among other applications, this new space technology will enable delivery of the supplies and materials needed for long-duration missions to the Red Planet.
“This entire effort was just fantastic work by the whole team and is a proud moment for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate,” said Dorothy Rasco, deputy associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This flight reminds us why NASA takes on hard technical problems, and why we test – to learn and build the tools we will need for the future of space exploration. Technology drives exploration, and yesterday’s flight is a perfect example of the type of technologies we are developing to explore our solar system.”
For more information about the LDSD space technology demonstration mission: http://go.usa.gov/kzZQ
For more information about the Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech
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