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NASA Releases Footage of "Flying Saucer" Braking Test, Declares Success 55

Posted by timothy
from the you-can-have-mars-I'll-stay-here dept.
According to the AP, in a story carried by the San Jose Mercury News, NASA engineers insisted Friday that a test of a vehicle they hope to one day use on Mars achieved most of its objectives, despite a parachute that virtually disintegrated the moment it deployed. The engineers laid out at a news conference what they've learned in the six weeks since the $150 million high-altitude test of a vehicle that's designed to bring spacecraft -- and eventually astronauts -- safely to Mars. Engineers said they achieved the main objective: getting a flying saucer-shaped craft to 190,000 feet above the Earth at more than four times the speed of sound under test conditions that matched the Martian atmosphere. Ars Technica has (beautiful, high-speed, high-definition) video of the test that shows the parachute tearing itself apart, as well as the many parts that went as planned.
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NASA Releases Footage of "Flying Saucer" Braking Test, Declares Success

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  • by turkeydance (1266624) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @08:04PM (#47639623)
    bumper sticker, y'know.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    a link to YouTube, which has a video of the test.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The parachute that brought the latest rover to Mars also disintegrated during testing. However NASA proceeded with the design knowing that the atmosphere on Mars is not nearly as dense as it is on Earth. Is the disintegration of the parachute actually considered by NASA to be a failure, or is this article just fishing for clicks with sensationalist titles?

    • The parachute that brought the latest rover to Mars also disintegrated during testing. However NASA proceeded with the design knowing that the atmosphere on Mars is not nearly as dense as it is on Earth. Is the disintegration of the parachute actually considered by NASA to be a failure, or is this article just fishing for clicks with sensationalist titles?

      Seeing as the parachute is the main device for terminal slowing, failure of the parachute only gets you to the 'pieces parts' stage. Great if you're K'Biel and lamenting the recent closure of the local Plasma Shack. Otherwise, not so much.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nobody had ever tested a big parachute at supersonic speeds at "high-altitude-on-mars-like" atmospheric density (that's why it was done at 180,000 ft..). There's been a huge number of questions about how these things deploy (or not, as the video shows), and since there aren't any wind tunnels around that run at 1 torr at supersonic speeds.. Gotta do the test.

        This is also why the new capsule designs (Orion, MPCV, etc.) look like Mercury/Gemini/Apollo... they did (really expensive) testing of various body s

      • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @10:23PM (#47640077)
        Parachutes can't slow things down much on Mars anyway which is why this is a far lesser deal than if it was designed to land on Earth. There's a nice bit on the website for the Xplane game about their Mars simulation stuff that describes it well. Their Mars flyer you can play with is like a U2 that steers like a cow and has to land at supersonic speed since parachutes can't do much to slow it down.
    • by pz (113803) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @09:52PM (#47639969) Journal

      I saw the live press release on nasa.tv (highly recommended). The principle scientists involved recognized the parachute failure, but emphasized that this is unknown territory, and the mission objectives -- which were to make an attempt and gather as much data as possible about that attempt -- were fully realized.

      Yes, the parachute failed. The vehicle was going something like Mach 2 at the time, having successfully aerobraked from Mach 4.7. They got excellent video of the entire process, and only four days (or something like that) after the mission, already had revisions on the parachute in mind to prevent such failure.

      This was the first of THREE planned tests. Was the mission successful this time? Absolutely not, if you expected to have a first time test succeed. But if you were looking to gather data on potential failure mechanisms, it was an overwhelming success.

      And, it should be noted, the deceleration inflatable ring (which has some kitchy acronym) worked very well, and importantly, they got good data on the design and how much it deviated from perfection (1/8 of an inch deflection at Mach 4.7 ... I dare anyone to do that with rigid materials, let alone inflatables). And the blute (the droge which pulls out the main parachute) worked entirely as intended. The downside? The shape of the parachute apparently needs to be more rounded.

      They are exploring entirely new territory. Who here really, really, thinks that every such testing and development mission is going to be successful? Anyone? Raise your hands, I want to see, because NASA would love to hire engineers (hell, screw NASA, *I'd* hire engineers) who have that level of talent. They're called experimental missions because the outcome is not known.

    • by Ford Prefect (8777) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @11:38PM (#47640293) Homepage

      The parachute that brought the latest rover to Mars also disintegrated during testing. However NASA proceeded with the design knowing that the atmosphere on Mars is not nearly as dense as it is on Earth.

      They got it working in testing [youtube.com] after that initial failure - and even that failure provided extremely useful high-speed video [youtube.com] of its deployment.

      Note the colossal wind tunnel. This latest, flying saucer tested parachute is way larger than that Curiosity parachute - so they've figured out a whole new testing regime. One that helpfully more closely matches conditions in the Martian atmosphere, too.

  • Units (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rashdot (845549) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @08:55PM (#47639801)

    190000 feet = 57912 meters.

    Just helping NASA to prevent getting their units mixed up again.

  • Gimme a brake -- one that operates at the right meters per seconds squared...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Even being so high up, in a low density atmosphere, it didn't take much to de-spin the vehicle as they put it. That was pretty cool.

    • it didn't take much

      How much were you expecting it to take?

    • by PPH (736903)

      Spinning and de-spinning a vehicle is primarily a function of the torque applied to the object's moment of inertia. Air friction doesn't become a big factor until you reach high rotational speeds (much higher than apparant from this video).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2014 @03:42AM (#47640729)

    This is one of those extremely RARE moments when a government team has done something great for the taxpayers. They wanted to test Mars entry hardware at a scale too large to fit into any wind tunnel that could simulate Mars and SHOCKINGLY they did NOT propose spending a decade and billions of dollars building a new super-sized "Mars upper-atmosphere simulation facility". They also did NOT propose spending billions on a whole fleet of mars-bound EELV payloads to experiment with new hardware ideas in the actual martian upper-atmosphere. This team actually did something that still has me a bit stunned (NOT that it COULD be done but rather that government people chose to do it) - they designed a scheme to achieve the sim with a balloon, a solid rocket motor, and a borrowed US Navy test range. Assuming the next two tests in the series work as planned, this team will have a proven method of testing all sorts of space probe hardware (not just for Mars) very affordably right here on Earth. Tis saves time and money and will enable lots more innovation because more testing can fit within budgets and more risks can be taken.

    Well Done!

    Now if we could just get the other 99.99% of the government to act even slightly this responsibly and creatively...

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Not quite - they've come up with a way to test all sorts of probes designed to operate in very thin atmospheres at middling temperatures. Which is basically to say they've come up with a way to test Martian atmospheric craft on Earth. Which is great, but only useful for Mars. Pretty much everything else in the solar system has essentially no atmosphere at all, even Mercury and Europa make Mars's atmosphere look crushingly thick. The few other bodies with an atmosphere - Venus, Titan, and the gas giants, all

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