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NASA Successfully Tests 'Flying Saucer' Craft, New Parachute 49

As reported by the Associated Press, via the Washington Post, an update on the promised (and now at least mostly successful) new disc-shaped craft and parachute technology intended for a NASA mission to Mars, though applicable to other space missions as well: A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth’s atmosphere splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, completing a successful test on Saturday of technology that could be used to land on Mars. Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere. The $150 million experimental flight tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. Despite small problems like the giant parachute not deploying fully, NASA deemed the mission a success. ... [T]he parachute unfurled — if only partially — and guided the vehicle to an ocean splashdown about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011. Coatta said engineers won't look at the parachute problem as a failure, but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests. ... 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 crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze. "That's really the treasure trove of all the details," Coatta said. "Pressure, temperature, force. High-definition video. All those measurements that are really key to us to understanding exactly what happens throughout this test."
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NASA Successfully Tests 'Flying Saucer' Craft, New Parachute

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  • Wait, so did the rest of the craft & chute sink?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The craft has an inflated donut around it so it should float as well. At the end of the video feed they say they're retrieving everything.

    • by shadowspawn1 ( 1750942 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @02:01AM (#47343511)
      No, all the components (at least for this test) were recovered for examination. It takes about two days to boat out to the site, pick up the items and bring them back for investigation. In case something unforeseen happened, a robust blackbox was dropped "just in case".
  • by oDDmON oUT ( 231200 ) on Saturday June 28, 2014 @08:22PM (#47342733)

    Actually, it's an ahref with no URL.

  • The US has been messing with these things for the last 50 years and NASA finally dips a toe? Lame, sorry guys.
    • Re:Yawn (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Concerned Onlooker ( 473481 ) on Saturday June 28, 2014 @10:48PM (#47343077) Homepage Journal

      This is something called a low-density supersonic decelerator. It's probably a bit different from anything else that has been happening "for the last 50 years." It's meant to allow a parachute to work effectively in the low-density atmosphere of Mars for spacecraft that are too heavy for conventional parachutes or the bouncing type of landing that was used for the Mars Exploration Rovers.

      http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/n... [nasa.gov]

      • Re:Yawn (Score:4, Informative)

        by shadowspawn1 ( 1750942 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @03:08AM (#47343591)

        It's a SIAD (supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator) the low density part of the LDSD acronym isn't because Mars has a low density. It comes from the fact that an inflatable device provides drag area at a much lower mass cost than your normal rigid structure.

        NASA did develop these systems >50 years ago then some of it later trickled into the military to slow down dumb bombs etc. Now that the landing goals are expanding to even larger landed masses this technology is being far better expanded, developed and space flight qualified. For instance, the small ram-air inflated device behind a bomb is not nearly as challenging as a SIAD around a 4.5 meter diameter aeroshell.

        Rigid articles are forgiving when you scale them down for aerodynamics and behavior. Flexible goods need to be tested at full scale or larger to get the right behavior.

  • best you can do (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Really? best you can do is a link to the Washington fucking post ? this is fucking slashdot, where's the mission pages, pics, videos, spec and software rundown ? ffs editors put some effort in!.

  • Just WOW (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Redbehrend ( 3654433 )
    It costed how much? It didn't work right, did not fully deploy and it was considered a success? Not to mention the material sunk? Now I see why SpaceX could replace NASA and this is coming from a Sci geek. They need to stop spending like idiots they ruin funding for all of us.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      NASA's been developing a hypersonic parachute for Mars, made out of new materials for over a decade now. Today's test is for a >100 foot version of that parachute. The mach 4, >100 foot parachute, in air densities comparable to Mars, didn't burn up, and it did a decent job at slowing down. So, the $150 million test showed that mach 4, >100 foot parachutes, in air densities comparable to Mars could work.

      Now, a mach 11 (about orbital velocity of Mars), >100 foot parachute, in air densities compara

      • by shadowspawn1 ( 1750942 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @02:45AM (#47343561)

        To correct the above comment:

        1) Parachutes are normally ripped apart somewhere between Mach 2 and Mach 3. A Mach 11 parachute is current-technology crazy.

        2) You are likely talking about the HIAD (hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator) work that Langley is doing. The idea there is to inflate the inflatable decelerator (that has flexible TPS) in orbit before entry. Langley has had good success with two or three Earth orbital reentry tests of the HIAD system. They are doing great work there.

        3) The large ~100ft diameter parachute is not opened at Mach 4. It is opened somewhere around Mach 2. It is novel because it is larger than what any wind tunnel currently on Earth can test and it is an effort to flight qualify a new higher performance drag parachute for Mars use. The parachute is completely separate from the inflatable decelerator.

        4) Your speed during entry depends on your entry trajectory which varies based on opportunity. Divide by the speed of sound and you have Mach #. There is nothing special about Mach 11 that ties it to the "orbital velocity".

        5) Both the HIAD and SIAD systems are being developed and have their own advantages. Both are being developed to good effect.

        Please forgive the numbered lists

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          There is nothing special about Mach 11 that ties it to the "orbital velocity".

          Except of course that there is a minimal velocity where orbit decays into atmospheric entry. I don't know the details for Mars, but that could very well be Mach 11.

          • Wolfram puts mars escape velocity at about 5000m/s, just under half that of earth.


            • by itzly ( 3699663 )
              Escape velocity is the vertical speed you need to get on the surface of the planet to guarantee escape from the planet (assuming no atmosphere). I'm talking about the orbital velocity (i.e. the horizontal speed the craft has in orbit around a planet). Assume the craft is in a low Mars orbit, and it wants to land on the planet, then it will hit the top of the atmosphere at a speed that's close to it's orbital speed, at least if you don't want to waste fuel by rocket braking.
              • @itzly - you said that you "didn't know the details for Mars":

                The speed of sound at atmospheric interface is around 200m/s so take your favorite realistic entry velocity at Mars and divide it by 200m/s to get the entry Mach number. (Spoiler: It won't be Mach 11)

                Reference: http://exrocketman.blogspot.co... [blogspot.com] (look at figure 7 column 'c' is for the speed of sound)

                Let's say we're *really slow* and enter at 5 km/s as you mentioned above. That would mean 5000/200 = Mach 25. A more realistic *direct* entry

    • It didn't work right, did not fully deploy and it was considered a success?

      What the summary does not make clear (but which you could have discovered yourself had you followed the second link) is that the part that failed to deploy was a "bonus" [nasa.gov] test - not the main goal. The main goal was to test the basic handling and flight characteristics of the test vehicle. Two additional tests are planned (and were planned long before today) to test the SIAD and the parachute.

      Now I see why SpaceX could repla

  • Actually I completely support this kind of NASA test, but I question why NASA would want their trial balloons in the Wasthington @#$ing Post.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think it's great that we're planning to send a flying saucer *to* Mars. Not only that, we can send our microbes too.

  • We're progressing to the stage where we'll be landing flying saucers on foreign planets. Disclaimer: I'm a complete sceptic.

  • This is a flying saucer as much as any cow is a flying cow. Falling is not flying.

    • This is a flying saucer as much as any cow is a flying cow. Falling is not flying.

      Unless you manage to miss the ground.

  • A little more info (Score:5, Informative)

    by shadowspawn1 ( 1750942 ) on Sunday June 29, 2014 @02:24AM (#47343537)

    To flush out this story:

    1) This is the first of three tests. The next test is next summer; they designed the long lead time so that they could roll bug fixes uncovered in the first test into the system. The price tag covers all the tests and some additional work besides not just this one test.

    2) The black box was dropped just in case they couldn't recover the hardware, it has a lot of data and high resolution imagery. For this test, they were able to recover all of the hardware as well.

    3) The first test was really a shake out of the balloon deployment method that took the vehicle up to 120k feet, spun it up for stability, brought it to Mach 4 and despun the vehicle. This hadn't been tried before so the fact that it succeeded was fantastic.

    4) The gravy part of this test was the inflation of the SIAD (supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator) and a new type of parachute with a higher drag coefficient than what we normally expect from a Viking heritage DGB (disk gap band). The SIAD inflated without a hitch the parachute looks to have tangled up. They'll have to investigate the hardware and find out what exactly happened.

    5) They're doing something high risk and "crazy" to push forward the state of the art. Elements are expected to fail along the way but they're rolling fixes into the next test. Try checking out a compilation of rocket explosions that happened while we were learning how to build them.


    Why the hell does this matter?

    With the current state of the art; we can land up to around 2 tons on Mars. With new technology like the SIAD (which can be opened far earlier than a parachute ever could be) we can get to landing ~10 tons on Mars. There is an even larger SIAD that would push this into the +20 ton range (especially if you include the new parachute as well). This is the start of the range where we can start talking about human missions to Mars.

    Hope that helps.

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