Supersonic ‘Flying Saucer’ Parachute Fails, But NASA Sees Success

NASA launched its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator — popularly known as its “flying saucer” — on Monday, after postponing the flight for several days due to poor weather in Hawaii.

The objective was to examine the performance of two advanced decelerator technologies: a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, and a supersonic parachute that will one day help vehicles land on the surface of Mars during manned missions.

Everything went according to plan during the launch, until the flying saucer’s 100-foot diameter supersonic parachute — the largest ever testedshredded in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The saucer was lifted 180,000 feet (34 miles) into the atmosphere. A massive helium balloon carried it the first 120,000 feet, then rockets boosted it to the edge of the stratosphere.

As you can see in the video above, the supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator surrounding the saucer successfully deployed, stabilizing the vehicle somewhat during mild oscillation.

But the supersonic parachute ruptured when released, Steve Jurcyzk, the associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, explained during a conference call on Tuesday.

A supersonic parachute ruptured during a NASA flight test on Monday, as seen from a low-resolution camera onboard the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator.

The parachute didn’t work as planned last year, when NASA tested a similar system. NASA engineers formed a group known as the Supreme Council of Parachute Experts to address that failure and developed a stronger, curved chute for this year’s test.

While the parachute’s destruction may seem like a mission failure, scientists said it was a success.

“The physics involved with LDSD is so cutting-edge we learn something profound every time we test,” Ian Clark, principal investigator for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, said in a press release. “Going into this year’s flight, I wanted to see that the parachute opened further than it —> Read More