NASA tests way to drop a saucer

first_imgLOS ANGELES — NASA has tested technology designed to lower spacecraft — and one day even astronauts — safely onto Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute tangled on the way down.Saturday’s $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle. Tests are being conducted at high altitude on Earth to mimic descent through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.A balloon hauled the saucer-shaped craft 120,000 feet into the sky from a Navy missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then the craft’s own rocket boosted it to more than 30 miles high at supersonic speeds. As the craft prepared to fall back, a doughnut-shaped tube around it expanded, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.Then the parachute unfurled — incompletely. The vehicle made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean.“In a way, that’s a more valuable experience for us than if everything had gone exactly according to plan,” he said.A ship was sent to recover a “black box” designed to separate from the vehicle and float. Outfitted with a GPS beacon, the box contains the flight data that scientists are eager to analyze.last_img read more

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