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NASA to test giant saucer on earth for Mars landing

IANS 02 Jun 2014, 14:16:52 IST
Washington: What will it take to land heavier spacecraft on Mars? How will engineers slow large payloads travelling at supersonic speeds in the thin Martian atmosphere?

To answer such questions, NASA is all set to test a saucer-shaped experimental vehicle - named the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) - in the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Tuesday.

The test will play a vital role in Mars exploration by making it possible to land heavier spacecraft on the Red Planet.

The new technology for its flight to Mars is inspired by the behaviour of pufferfish.

Pufferfish are poor swimmers but can quickly ingest huge amounts of water to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size.

For the pufferfish, it is simply a defense mechanism. For NASA, it is potentially the element that links to the future of space exploration.

The current technology for decelerating payloads dates back to NASA's Viking Programme which placed two landers on Mars in 1976. That same technology is still being used and most recently delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars in 2012.

"Future robotic missions to Mars and even future human exploration will require more massive payloads than previously sent to the surface of the Red Planet. To accomplish these goals, we are developing new systems to deliver this important cargo to the surface of Mars," the statement read.