Launch is in five days, and NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) team is preparing for the big day, the second flight test of new technology for landing payloads on Mars.
A dress rehearsal for the LDSD mission was conducted Friday, May 29, and the team is ready for launch between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. HST (1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. EDT) on June 2, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Excitement is building here at the range with the completion of the dress rehearsal.
During Friday’s dress rehearsal, the LDSD team went through the countdown and steps required to prepare and launch the balloon and LDSD test vehicle. Practice makes perfect, and the team has rehearsed often the countdown process for a successful flight. Friday’s practice run was the last before Tuesday’s launch.
Weather permitting, a large balloon will carry the LDSD vehicle to a height of approximately 120,000 feet where the test will begin. At this point, “weather permitting” may be the key to launching on Tuesday.
Since a large balloon will carry the LDSD test vehicle, wind speed and direction are critical to launching and flying the balloon to the test altitude. Acceptable winds are needed to launch and carry the balloon with the test vehicle out over the Pacific Ocean west of Kauai.
However, if the launch does not occur on Tuesday, all is not lost. The team has until June 12 to conduct the test. If things don’t pan out during this launch window, the team may have a second opportunity from July 7 through 17.
The decision to attempt launch of the LDSD test will be made the day before each launch opportunity.
Building on prior Viking efforts, the LDSD test program is advancing capabilities and creating the engineering knowledge needed for the next generation of Mars landers.
As the warm winds blew, team members of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) bowed their heads as Uncle Tom Takahashi said a special blessing over the test vehicle during the naming ceremony at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii.
Takahashi named the vehicle “Kalani Ike Ike Kahonua,” which means “highest boy in heaven” in the Hawaiian language. Uncle Tom is a native Hawaiian elder from a local church who often names and blesses vehicles.
Last year, Takahashi named the LDSD launch tower “Onikahonua,” which means “mover of the Earth” and the 2014 LDSD test vehicle “Keiki O Ka Honua” or “boy from Earth.”
NASA’s LDSD project will attempt the second flight test June 2 of a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space to demonstrate two breaking technologies that could be used to aid in landing heavy payloads on distant planets like Mars.
As NASA plans ambitious robotic science missions to Mars, laying the groundwork for even more complex human expeditions to come, the spacecraft needed to land safely on the Red Planet’s surface will become larger and heavier in order to accommodate explorers extended stays on the Martian surface.
Practice! Practice! Practice! That’s what it takes for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) team to be ready for the June 2 launch attempt of a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, Hawaii. Test success requires an intricate set of events, including use of a high-altitude balloon, rocket engines, an aeroshell and multiple supersonic decelerators.
On May 26, teams gathered at their respective stations to run through the launch day timeline to ensure a safe and successful launch. This exercise is one in a series of simulations planned to practice launch events and identify issues early. A full mission dress rehearsal will be held within the next several days to finalize test procedures before launch day.
The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test breakthrough entry, descent and landing technologies that will enable large payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars. The technologies will not only enable landing of larger payloads on Mars, but also allow access to more of the planet’s surface by enabling landings at higher altitude sites and with improved accuracy.
NASA teams are continuing preparations for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test off the coast of Hawaii June 2-12. This week the team completed a number of key pre-test procedures, including a successful mate between the test vehicle and balloon support systems.
So, you may be wondering what this LDSD technology is – and why it’s important to future missions to Mars. Put simply, it’s about mass, speed and safety. NASA is planning ambitious robotic and human missions to Mars, which will require larger, more complex spacecraft than we’ve ever flown before. They’ll need to haul sizeable payloads to accommodate long stays on the Martian surface, and must fly back and forth more quickly to minimize human exposure to space radiation. That means finding new ways to slow down when our spacecraft reach their destinations, effectively countering those faster flights and payloads of greater mass.
Current deceleration technologies date back to NASA’s Viking Program, which put two landers on Mars in 1976. The basic Viking parachute design has been used ever since, such as during the 2012 delivery of the Curiosity rover to Mars.
Now NASA seeks to use atmospheric drag as a solution. NASA’s LDSD project, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, is conducting this full-scale flight test of two breakthrough technologies: a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, or SIAD, and an innovative new parachute. These devices potentially will help us deliver double the current amount of payload — 1.5 metric tons — to the surface of Mars. They also will greatly increase the accessible surface area we can explore, and will improve landing accuracy from a margin of approximately 6.5 miles to a little more than 1 mile.
All these factors will dramatically increase the success of future missions on Mars.
Want to learn more about these technologies? Read all about LDSD here — and stay with us for more previews of the launch, plus live coverage of portions of the test flight!
Welcome to the brand-new Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project blog! NASA is preparing for the second test flight of this innovative technology demonstrator, set to occur over the Pacific Ocean during our June 2-12 launch window. Our team recently completed booster integration with the test vehicle at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii — our temporary base of operations for the launch test.
In the days ahead, we’ll share news and images leading up to the opening of the launch window, and we’ll tell you how to watch selected portions of the flight test live on UStream and NASA TV. Stay tuned!
More about LDSD
The upcoming test flight will simulate the supersonic entry and descent speeds a spacecraft would reach when traveling through the Martian atmosphere. The project, led for the agency by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, seeks to investigate and mature breakthrough solutions for landing future robotic and human missions on Mars and safely returning large payloads to Earth. LDSD is part of NASA’s Technology Demonstration Mission program, sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.