UPDATE: Today’s launch (June 4) was canceled because of poor weather (see tweet below). The next available launch opportunity will be Friday, June 5.
NASA will test its experimental "flying saucer" that could someday help put humans on Mars, and the event will be streamed online today.
"You get to see all the same video I do, at the same time I do," Mark Adler, project manager for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), said in a news release.
The LDSD is a new type of landing technology that, if successful, may be used to deliver larger payloads to other planets, especially Mars.
At about 1:30 p.m., the LDSD will be lifted into the sky by a massive helium balloon from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.
The 2- to 3-hour journey will take the LDSD to an altitude of 120,000 feet, where it will be released. Four small rockets will kick in and spin the flying saucer, followed by a Star 48B long-nozzle, solid-fueled rocket with 17,500 pounds of thrust, which will take the craft up another 60,000 feet, according to NASA.
At the edge of the stratosphere -- about 34 miles above the surface of Earth -- four more rockets will fire to "de-spin" the saucer. At that point, the LDSD will start its plunge to the Pacific Ocean.
At a speed of Mach 3, the supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator will be deployed to slow the test vehicle to a speed of Mach 2.4. From there, a giant supersonic ringsail parachute will open and guide the craft to the ocean, where it will be recovered.
Once released by the balloon, the LDSD is expected to take about 40 minutes to reach the water.
The system was tested last year, but the parachute didn't work as planned and NASA engineers had to go back to the drawing board. They formed a group known as the Supreme Council of Parachute Experts to figure out what went wrong and come up with a fix.
As a result, most of the attention will be focused on that portion of today's test.
"What we will be looking most closely for is to see what happens on that fourth camera, when at Mach 2.35 our supersonic parachute is deployed," said Adler. "It may be hard to see because the transmitted video is low resolution, but we hope to be able to make it out."
If successful, the payload on future missions will increase from the current 3,330 pounds to between 4,400 and 6,600 pounds, according to NASA.
The more immediate use of the LDSD will be future robotic missions, but NASA says this technology could eventually help the first human explorers land on Mars.
NASA is planning another test for next summer.
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