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Real Flying Saucer Will Put NASA Chutes to the Test

Jun 02, 2015 07:34 PM EDT

So who wants to see a flying saucer? No, we're not talking about a Frisbee or even some movie prop suspended from a wire. We're talking about the genuine article, ascending and then plummeting through the air in bursts of ignited jet fuel. Tomorrow NASA will be testing their latest line of supersonic parachutes, and they are inviting the general public to watch it happen in real time.

According to NASA, their "flying saucer," called the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), was designed to test equipment meant to land large payloads on Mars and other alien worlds. However, just looking at the craft we can't help but suspect that the agency's engineers drew at least a little inspiration from science fiction.

Circular and squat, with one powerful propulsion rocket situated at the center of it, the LDSD is traditionally first lifted into the air by a powerful balloon (up to about 120,000 ft). Then the rocket kicks in to bring the saucer to Mach 4 speeds (flying more than 1300 meters-per-second). The LDSD can climb an additional 60,000 feet in all, peaking at a precarious near-space position where our world ends and the rest of the solar system begins.

This is the point where, like an alien visitor unprepared to go home, the saucer will turn over and plummet back down, putting NASA's deceleration tech to the test.

So what's so cool about all this? Aside from the fact that NASA has a real-life flying saucer, four cameras mounted onto the craft will allow anyone who tunes in to NASA TV to watch the test in real time - essentially brining them along for the ride.

"You get to see all the same video I do, at the same time I do," said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, recently announced. "This year's test is centered on how our newly-designed supersonic parachute will perform. We think we have a great design ready for the challenge, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding will be made live for everyone to see."

NASA commentary will be carried on NASA TV and at The current test launch window for the LDSD is from June 3 to June 12, and extends each day from approximately 1:30 to 3 pm EDT (10:30 to noon PDT / 7:30 to 9 am HST). For updates on launch status, follow @NASA_Technology and @NASA on Twitter.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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