Take a Spin With NASA Cutting-edge Mars Landing Technology
NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project will be flying a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, in June.
The public is invited to tune in to an hour-long live, interactive video broadcast from the gallery above a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where this near-space experimental test vehicle is being prepared for shipment to Hawaii. During the broadcast, the 15-foot-wide, 7,000-pound vehicle is expected to be undergoing a "spin-table" test. The event will be streamed live on www.ustream.tv/NASAJPL2 on March 31, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. PDT. JPL's Gay Hill will host the program while LDSD team members will answer questions submitted to the Ustream chat box or via Twitter using the #AskNASA hashtag.
The LDSD crosscutting demonstration mission will test breakthrough technologies that will enable large payloads to be safely landed on the surface of Mars, or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth. The technologies will not only enable landing of larger payloads on Mars, but also allow access to much more of the planet's surface by enabling landings at higher-altitude sites.
Testflug NASA JPL LIVE
Getting the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) Vehicle to Test Altitude
In June NASA will conduct the second flight of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) located on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii.
The test will begin at an altitude of about 120,000 feet. But what does it take to get a supersonic test vehicle to that altitude? It’s easier said than done.
In addition to finding a way to deliver the test vehicle to the right height, the project also had to find a location and a team to help coordinate the launch range activities.
Mark Adler, LDSD project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said, “To support the LDSD supersonic flights we turned to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia which has experience in launching scientific balloons, conducting remote campaigns and a working relationship with the Pacific Missile Range Facility. All of that experience has been vital in conducting these tests efficiently and successfully.”
This isn’t your everyday party balloon
NASA balloons are typically used for launching science instruments weighing thousands of pounds to altitudes up to 130,000 feet for durations lasting a few hours to more than a month, from sites all around the world.
The balloon being used for the LDSD test is similar to those used to support scientific flights. The balloon is 34.4 million cubic feet in volume and consists of 22 acres of plastic similar in thickness to that used for sandwich bags. The total flight system length at launch is 980 feet, including the balloon, parachute, cable ladder and test vehicle.
Supported by a team from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), Palestine, Texas, on launch day the balloon is laid out and attached to the test vehicle. Held captive by a large spool, the top section of the balloon is inflated with helium. When the approval is given for launch, the balloon is released by the spool and climbs upward until it is erect overhead of the LDSD test vehicle. The LDSD test vehicle is then released from a first-of-its-kind launch tower and begins its ascent to 120,000 feet. As the balloon rises, the helium expands the balloon so that at peak altitude the balloon would fill a large stadium.
David Gregory, deputy chief of the Balloon Program Office at Wallops, said, “The largest difficulty in preparing for this mission was developing a system to safely hold and launch the LDSD test vehicle.”
“Typically, a large mobile vehicle, similar to a crane, holds the science payload and is driven to align the payload under the balloon at launch. However, the LDSD test vehicle contains an Orbital ATK Star-48 solid rocket motor. So due to safety considerations, a unique design remote operated static launch tower was built to keep personnel away from the test vehicle at launch. This is unlike our typical launches where we use a mobile launch vehicle that requires operations personnel to be in close proximity to the payload at the time of the balloon launch,” Gregory said.
Engineers from Wallops and the CSBF went to work and with Foremost Industries LP of Calgary, Canada, developed a unique launch tower that safely releases the LDSD test vehicle for its flight to Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Gregory said, “The development of the launch tower was the key to allowing us to successfully and safely launch the LDSD test vehicle.”
Finding the right location
Dave Wilcox, LDSD project manager at Wallops, said. “The other big issue for us was finding a facility with the appropriate wind conditions for the balloon launch and flight and a location that allowed us to provide public and environmentally safe conditions for conducting the LDSD test. After looking at several locations, it was determined that PMRF fit the bill.”
PMRF is providing ground instrumentation for command uplink and flight system (balloon and test vehicle) tracking; the necessary facilities for integration, launch, and operation of the flight system; and the necessary range services such as aircraft surveillance for range clearance.
Wallops has extensive experience in conducting “remote” campaigns through the NASA sounding rocket, balloons and airborne sciences programs. In addition, it is home to NASA’s only owned rocket launch range.
Wilcox said, “Because of this experience, Wallops is tasked with the overall mission execution of the project countdown, providing recovery services of the balloon and the LDSD vehicle from the Pacific Ocean following the test, launch of meteorological rockets following the LDSD test and coordinating the support provided by PMRF.”
“In addition, Wallops is fabricating and providing the test vehicle’s on-board avionics and associated electronic ground support equipment, which are based heavily on proven sounding rocket systems,” Wilcox said.
Crews from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility prepare the balloon for flight for the 2014 NASA Low Density Supersonic Decelerator test from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.
Credits: (Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Rodman)
Recovering the flight articles from the Pacific
NASA plans to recover the balloon, test vehicle, and supersonic parachute.
The recovery boats are locally owned and operated fishing/commercial freight vessels that are contracting with NASA to perform the recovery operations. NASA subject matter experts and trained Navy divers will be aboard for the operations. The recovery vessels are being supplied by the Hawaii Resource Group located on the Island of Oahu and the spent balloon is being recycled by Pacific Farm Services on the Island of Kauai.
The LDSD testing will be conducted through NASA's Technology Demonstrations Missions program, based at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, with the technology development work and testing led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is coordinating support with the Pacific Missile Range Facility and providing the balloon systems.
The LDSD project is one of several crosscutting technologies NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate is developing to create the new knowledge and capabilities necessary to enable our future missions to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. The directorate is committed to developing the critical technologies required to enable future exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.
While the actual test may only last a few minutes, the road to getting to the test is long and the players involved are many.
LDSD 2015 Launch Status Updates
Supersonic Decelerator Gets a Lift to Prepare for Launch
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.
NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator project is designed to investigate and test breakthrough technologies for landing future robotic and human Mars missions, and safely returning large payloads to Earth.
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.
LDSD Dresses for Success
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 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.
The Moon sets during the full mission dress rehearsal for the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), Friday, May 29, 2015, U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, HI. 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. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
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.
Mission managers postponed tomorrow’s scheduled launch of a high-altitude balloon carrying NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle because of unfavorable ocean conditions. The wave height is not conducive for safe recovery operations. The next launch attempt is Wednesday, June 3, no earlier than 7:30 a.m. HST (1:30 p.m. EDT). The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test breakthrough technologies that will enable larger payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth.
High Pacific Waves Keep NASA's Flying Saucer Grounded in Hawaii
NASA's "flying saucer" is good to go for a test launch from Hawaii, but wave conditions in the Pacific Ocean aren't so good for a splashdown and recovery. As a result, the scientists behind the saucer have twice had to postpone their tryout of technologies that could someday be used for landings on Mars — where there are no oceans to worry about.
The flying saucer is formally known as the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD. The rocket-powered platform incorporates an inflatable, doughnut-shaped device called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, plus a parachute that's meant to withstand supersonic wind speeds.
The LDSD had its first field test last June at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, Hawaii. A helium balloon lofted the payload up to 120,000 feet, and then the rocket pushed the LDSD up another 60,000 feet — to a region of the stratosphere where the air is as thin as it is on Mars. The 20-foot-wide inflatable decelerator worked as expected, but as soon as the 110-foot-wide parachute opened, it was shredded apart.
Although the platform splashed down in the Pacific Ocean harder than planned, the team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory retrieved a wealth of flight data and declared the test to be a success. The readings resulted in a redesign of the parachute. "It's a much stronger, much more robust parachute," principal investigator Ian Clark told reporters Monday.
This year's flight test could have taken place as early as Tuesday, but the waves in the recovery zone have been too high to give the go-ahead. "The ocean wave height continues to be an issue for the crew that would recover the vehicle and its data after splashdown," NASA spokeswoman Kim Newton wrote Tuesday in a status report.
Two day-by-day postponements have been announced so far. The next opportunity will come no earlier than 1:30 p.m. ET (7:30 a.m. Hawaii time) Thursday, NASA said.
This month's launch window is open for about two weeks, and there's another launch window in July, said Mark Adler, LDSD project manager.
When liftoff occurs, NASA will stream video coverage via the NASA TV and Ustream.
Adler said $230 million has been budgeted over three years for developing the LDSD system. NASA says such drag devices should be capable of delivering 2- to 3-ton payloads safely to the Martian surface. Current technologies limit NASA's Mars payloads to about a ton — which may be fine for landing a rover, but isn't sufficient for landing the equipment that would be required for future human missions to the Red Planet.
NASA Scrubs June 4 LDSD Launch
Posted on June 4, 2015 at 8:01 am by Kim Newton.
Today’s launch (June 4) of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator aboard a high-altitude balloon has been cancelled due to weather. A line of rain showers developed overnight moving towards the launch site, which result in unstable wind conditions near the surface that would prevent the launch of the balloon. NASA will evaluate the next available launch opportunity, Friday, June 5.
NASA Go for June 8 LDSD Launch
NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle is rolled out to the launch pad under moon light, Wednesday, June 3, 2015, at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, Hawaii. The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test two breakthrough technologies that will enable larger payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls).
The LDSD launch support team is go to report to stations tonight at 9 p.m. HST to begin preparations for a Monday, June 8, 7:30 a.m. HST (1:30 p.m. EDT) launch attempt from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. NASA Television and JPL’s Ustream channel will carry live coverage of the launch beginning at 7 a.m. HST (1 p.m. EDT).
The scientific balloon will begin inflation at 6:15 a.m. HST and after launch will take about three hours to reach its float altitude of 120,000 feet. About 45 minutes after the balloon reaches test altitude, the saucer-shaped LDSD test vehicle will be dropped and its powered flight will begin.
A solid-fueled rocket engine will kick in sending the test vehicle to the edge of the stratosphere, or about 180,000 feet, at a speed of Mach 4.
At about Mach 3, the test vehicle will deploy the supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD). The SIAD decelerates the vehicle to approximately Mach 2.4. The test vehicle will then deploy a supersonic parachute, which will carry the test vehicle to a controlled water impact.
The LDSD crosscutting technology demonstration mission will test two braking technologies that will enable larger payloads to be landed safely on the surface of Mars or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth.