So Close! NASA Scrubs Flying Saucer Launch Again, Due to Weather

NBC News -- After raising a glimmer of hope, NASA postponed its launch of a rocket-powered test vehicle that looks like a flying saucer for the fifth time on Wednesday, citing unfavorable weather conditions.

On Tuesday evening, the mission's team members said the winds at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii were close to being within the required parameters for sending up NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD. But early Wednesday, NASA spokeswoman Shannon Ridinger said there would be no launch. The next potential launch date is Saturday.

The LDSD test is aimed at duplicating the conditions that Mars-bound spacecraft would face during atmospheric entry and descent. The test vehicle looks like a flying saucer simply because that's the shape used for the actual spacecraft. If the system works as NASA hopes, future missions would be able to send much heavier payloads to Mars.

Ground-based tests show that the system should work. But for the Hawaii test, which involves sending up the LDSD at the end of a helium balloon, the upper-level winds at the launch site have to be blowing out toward the Pacific Ocean. So far, they've been blowing inland — which is the reason for the five postponements this month.

When the test takes place, the balloon would carry the saucer-shaped craft to an altitude of 120,000 feet. Then the LDSD would light up its solid-fueled rocket engine, blast itself up to a height of 180,000 feet and begin its descent at a speed of Mach 3.8 or so.

A coated Kevlar "inner tube" would inflate, increasing the LDSD's diameter to 20 feet (6 meters). The resulting atmospheric drag should slow the craft's descent to a speed of Mach 2.5, which would allow for the deployment of a 100-foot-wide (30.5-meter-wide) parachute. The LDSD should then drift safely into the Pacific Ocean for recovery.

For further background on the LDSD test, check out last week's preview. And to get the latest word on flight status, check in with the project's website.


See more information at NBC News

More Stories

Don't Miss

Latest News