On June 8, 2015, NASA conducted second test flight of its rocket-powered, saucer-shaped Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle from the US Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) located on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii.
Ascending of LDSD to an altitude of 37 km was performed by a giant balloon. After release from the balloon, a solid-fuel booster rocket lifted the vehicle to 55 km, during which it accelerated to a maximum supersonic speed of 4 Mach. Traveling at about 3 Mach, the vehicle's initial brake system, called a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (SIAD), inflated and slowed the vehicle. However then, at Mach 2.35, its parachute failed to operate properly resulting in the vehicle's hard splashdown to the ocean's surface.
Reaching Mach 4, LDSD's SIAD deployed and inflated. Chute deployed, but did not inflate. We'll study data from this test to learn and improve. NASA Technology Twitter
Parachute that caused test mission's second straight partial failure (first flight, conducted on June 28, 2014, also ended with a hard splashdown after parachute system malfunction) has 30,5 meters in diameter, being the largest parachute ever deployed.
The balloon being used for the LDSD test is similar to those used to support scientific flights. The balloon is 974,100 cubic meters in volume and consists of 88,000 square meters of plastic similar in thickness to that used for sandwich bags. The total flight system length at launch is almost 300 meters, including the balloon, parachute, cable ladder and test vehicle.
Total weight of LDSD vehicle with fuel is about 3 tons. LDSD dimensions are 4.7 meters in diameter prior to SIAD inflation and 6 meter after that. Some of the facts behind the LDSD test flight are explained below (images credit: NASA):
LDSD project, reportedly estimated at $230 million, is led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. The full-scale flight was intended to test 2 breakthrough technologies: a toroidal, Kevlar-made SIAD (success), and an innovative new parachute (failure).
These devices potentially will help NASA to deliver 1.5 tons of payload to the surface of Mars or other planetary bodies with atmospheres, including Earth. Such technologies also will greatly increase the accessible surface area that can be explored, 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 possibility of success of future missions to Mars.
A third test flight of LDSD test vehicle is scheduled for the summer of 2016.