More Mars tests planned

LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — NASA will return to Kauai next year for more tests of technology that could be used in flights to Mars.

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LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — NASA will return to Kauai next year for more tests of technology that could be used in flights to Mars.

The agency in June conducted tests with its saucer-shaped Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, which includes technology designed to gently land heavy payloads.

“We’re going to want to put two-story condominiums on the surface of Mars, and that gets really big and really hard,” said Mark Adler of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “So really, this is like the second step of a 12-step program to get to the point where we can put very large things on Mars.”

On June 28, NASA launched the decelerator from Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. The goal was to determine if the vehicle could reach altitudes and airspeeds needed to test Mars-mission technology.

A 34-million-cubic-foot helium balloon carried the vehicle to 120,000 feet and a rocket propelled it to 190,000 feet at more than four times the speed of sound to simulate landing conditions on Mars. A doughnut-shaped tube called the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator deployed and slowed the vehicle to Mach 2.5. However, the largest supersonic parachute ever built ripped apart as it deployed.

“We see the parachute beginning to inflate … but very early on it begins developing tears, and once it has those tears, the parachute structure just won’t hold its geometry very well,” said decelerator project manager Ian Clark.

The agency still deemed the test a success.

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“We’ve learned, for one, that we have more to learn about supersonic parachute inflation,” Clark said. “The idea of taking 200 pounds of Kevlar and nylon and deploying it at 2,500 mph — 200 pounds that, inflated, would be the size of a small warehouse — is certainly a challenging endeavor.”

The agency is altering and strengthening the supersonic parachute for upcoming tests.

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