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

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 pz ( 113803 ) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @09:52PM (#47639969) Journal

    I saw the live press release on (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 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...

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler