High waves forced NASA to postpone until Thursday the first test of the largest parachute ever deployed, during a flying saucer launch that will try out new technologies for landing on Mars. If conditions improve, the test flight of the flying saucer, known as the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, will be broadcast live on NASA’s website beginning at 1:30 pm (1730 GMT) on Thursday.
“The ocean wave height continues to be an issue for the crew that would recover the vehicle and its data after splashdown,” NASA said after the postponement of Wednesday’s planned attempt. A bid on Tuesday was also canceled because of ocean conditions.
The launch window for the test extends until June 12. Since the atmosphere on Mars is so thin, any parachute that helps a heavy, fast-moving spacecraft touch down needs to be extra strong.
The US space agency figured out how to do this decades ago, beginning with the Viking mission that put two landers on Mars in 1976.
But with the goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s, the agency is now testing a more advanced, new generation of parachute technology, known as the Supersonic Ringsail Parachute, that could allow even heavier spacecraft — the kind that may have humans and months of food and supplies on board — to land softly.
“We want to see if the chute can successfully deploy and decelerate the test vehicle while it is in supersonic flight,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.
The test vehicle weighs 6,808 pounds (3,088 kilograms), or about twice the weight of the kind of robotic rover spacecraft NASA is currently capable of landing safely on Mars.