NASA’s LDSD ‘UFO’ readied for its second flight
NASA’s ‘UFO’ flying saucer – which has the more-official name of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator or “LDSD” – is being readied for its second test flight from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) located in Kauai, Hawaii. If everything continues to go as planned, NASA will send the odd-looking craft aloft via a balloon before being spun up – and then sent roaring aloft via an Orbital ATK Star 48 solid rocket motor. The upcoming flight will mirror one conducted in June of last year – and is currently slated to take place on June 2.
The window for the test flight opens at 7:30 a.m. HST (12:30 p.m. EST; 16:30 GMT). One of the more prevalent concerns in terms of launching anything has already been factored into mission-planners’ decision making. In an effort to counter the threat posed by weather conditions, planners pushed back the opening of the window by one hour.
With NASA currently planning on sending astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s, this technology is essential to landing heavy payloads on the surface of other worlds. The concept of a heat shield that can be inflated is one that has crept into the consciousness of organizations and agencies planning on conducting missions to the Red Planet. This is precisely what the LDSD is designed to test.
LDSD is meant to validate concepts on both crewed and uncrewed missions to Mars. It also could be used to return heavy payloads back to Earth. With the vast majority of resources located off Earth, it is possible that technologies tested by the LDSD could be used to enable emerging organizations looking to tap the limitless resources found in the outer solar system.
Conducted over the Pacific Ocean, LDSD will simulate supersonic entry and descent speeds that the LDSD design would encounter upon re-entry.
On June 28, 2014, a similar craft lifted off from the PMRF via a high-altitude helium balloon with a fully-inflated volume of some 39,570,000 cubic feet (1,120,000 m3). The balloon lifted the LDSD to an altitude of approximately 120,000 feet (37,000 meters).
Once there, it, like next month’s test article, will be ‘spun up’ via four small solid rocket boosters which is done to increase stability.
A half second after being “spun up”, the Star 48B SRM activated – propelling the craft to Mach 4 (2,880 miles per hour) and to an altitude of 180,000 feet (55,000 meters).
NASA has plans to continue testing and developing this technology alongside its other efforts meant to allow crews and other payloads to travel to and from distant points throughout the solar system.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.