A flying saucer could one day help a manned mission to Mars make a gentle landing on the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA showed off its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator today during a live broadcast from its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Weighing in at 7,000 pounds and measuring 15 feet wide, the spacecraft underwent a spin test on a table to show off its capability.
Spinning an object keeps it pointed in one direction, and the saucer is equipped with a rocket to slow it down.
The technology could be crucial for Mars exploration since it will decelerate heavy landers traveling at supersonic speeds through Mars’ thin atmosphere. The drag device could one day help humans, their cargo and their return rockets safely reach the Red Planet.
After today’s test, the next step for the vehicle will be in June when it will blast off on a test into near-space from the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, NASA officials said.
Testing the vehicle in the thin air of Earth’s stratosphere this summer is the nearest “local” test to see how the flying saucer fares in Martian-like conditions.