Parachute on NASA 'flying saucer' fails during test run

High-tech parachute designed to slow down descent on future manned missions to Mars tears away from saucer-shaped craft.

    Parachute on NASA 'flying saucer' fails during test run
    The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator is designed to slow descent in thin atmospheres [NASA/Reuters]

    NASA's test run of a landing system to be used on future missions to Mars has come to a quick end after a high-tech parachute attached to the "flying saucer"-shaped device tore away.

    The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), an inflatable ring-like technology that slows down spacecraft, landed successfully in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday after reaching an altitude of 36.5km, NASA said in a press statement released after the test.

    NASA's previous attempts at testing the Mars landing system

    After the LDSD successfully deployed and inflated, the parachute attached to the craft detached during the descent back to Earth. 

    Morris Jones, a space analyst, told Al Jazeera that the system had a dual purpose: the first was to insulate the spacecraft from heat, and the second was to serve as an air brake to slow down the capsule.

    "It fits around a spacecraft as a heat shield and provides additional drag to slow down very heavy landers that will be targeted in the future for the planet Mars," Morris said.

    NASA scientists will now work on the data they have collected to improve technology used in future tests.

    "Data was obtained on the performance of both innovative braking technologies, and the teams are beginning to study the data," the statement said.

    Al Jazeera speaks to Morris Jones about NASA's 'flying saucer' landing technology

    A parachute attached to the LDSD also tore away in an earlier test conducted by NASA in June last year.

    The one used in Tuesday's test was a redesigned and reinforced version of that device. 

    "This is exactly why we do tests like this," Dan Coatta, NASA engineer and LDSD mission commentator, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying after the test.

    "When we're actually ready to send spacecraft to Mars, we know that they are going to work when that big mission is on the line."

    Morris Jones said the process of finding out what went wrong could be lengthy.

    "They [NASA] have to get an idea of exactly why it failed ... they'll have to recover the thing, examine it, and go through some of the data ... that's probably going take several months to get through," Jones said

    Both the LDSD and its companion parachute are designed to deal with the thin atmosphere found on Mars, which is similar to conditions found on Earth at high altitudes.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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