Following two days of delays, NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator test flight has been cleared for launch Thursday at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility.
The flight, which will reach the Earth’s stratosphere and end in a splashdown some 25 miles from Kauai, will begin no earlier than 7:30 a.m., mission managers said Wednesday.
The event, involving a flying saucer that aims to test two devices designed to slow spacecraft with heavy payloads for landings on Mars, was delayed Monday and Tuesday due to rough seas that would have made recovery of the test vehicle and its data too risky.
Thursday’s flight will start with a high-altitude balloon lifting the saucer-shaped test vehicle to an altitude of 120,000 feet. That’s when the craft will be dropped and its powered flight will begin.
First, four small rocket motors will fire up to spin and stabilize the saucer, and then the craft’s rocket engine will kick in with 17,500 pounds of thrust, sending the test vehicle to 180,000 feet at a speed of Mach 4.
The near-space environment high over the Pacific is similar to the thin atmosphere of Mars, NASA officials said.
At about Mach 3, the test vehicle will deploy a doughnut-shaped supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator to create enough drag to slow the craft to around Mach 2.4.
The test vehicle will then deploy a huge supersonic ringsail parachute, which will further slow the saucer to a controlled water landing about 40 minutes after being dropped from the balloon. There, ocean crews will retrieve the vehicle and parachute.
NASA Television and JPL’s Ustream channel will carry live coverage of the launch activities beginning at 7 a.m. with commentary starting 30 minutes before launch.