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Unfavorable winds postpone 'flying saucer' test launch

By Star Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:15 p.m. HST, Jun 5, 2014

Weather conditions were unfavorable on Thursday for the launch of the saucer-shaped test vehicle from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, NASA said in an advisory.

The next date for the balloon launch of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, is Saturday. Other potential launch dates include June 9, 11 and 14.

Winds need to be blowing out to sea, so the test vehicle lands safely in the Pacific Ocean at the end of its high-altitude test, NASA said.

Unfavorable winds also scrubbed the launch on Tuesday. 

The launch will show how a new kind of atmospheric braking system performs under conditions similar to those faced during entry, descent and landing on Mars. 

The test vehicle is expected to reach an altitude of 120,000 feet using a helium-filled balloon. From there it will be dropped and a solid-fueled rocket engine will send it up to 180,000 feet. At that height, Earth's atmospheric density is similar to that of Mars' atmosphere.

As the saucer descends at a supersonic speed of Mach 3.8, a coated Kevlar "inner tube" should inflate, widening the craft's diameter to 20 feet. The extra drag should slow the saucer down to Mach 2.5, and a super-strong 100-foot-wide parachute will unfurl to further slow the descent.

About 45 minutes later, the craft should be recovered from the Pacific for analysis. If the system works, NASA says it could eventually be used on spacecraft that carry multiple-ton payloads to Mars.

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