April 14, 2014 - The Jet Propulsion Laboratory here – one of NASA’S leading research and development centers – gave journalists a peek at the future Wednesday. Get out your notebooks and scratch out the words, “flying saucer” and put in, “Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator” (LDSD). That’s what they’re calling the new, rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle they will be propelling into near-space this June from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The purpose: to investigate how to land on Mars with bigger payloads.
NASA's LDSD aims to to slow down the descent of a large payload at supersonic speeds through the thin atmosphere of a planet like Mars by creating atmospheric drag.
Looking almost exactly like a miniature version of the spaceship that beguiled Richard Dreyfus in 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the new LDSD is propped up on a special, multipronged trailer in the five-story room where it was assembled here. The press had to don surgeon hats, booties, and special outerwear to get close, while scientists explained the advancing needs of exploring Mars.
The new saucer, er, LDSD, is about 6 feet high and 22 feet in diameter.