If you saw a UFO in Hawaii yesterday, consider it identified. NASA has been working on a flying saucer, called the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), designed for landing large payloads on Mars. The LDSD was lifted by balloon to about 120,000 feet before it dropped away from the balloon and flew under its own power for 30 minutes. After splashdown, the saucer, data recorders, and parachute were recovered successfully. The LDSD itself performed well, which was the main goal of the test. Two landing technologies were also tested, with mixed results.
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.
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.