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Jun 9th 2015, 15:30

NASA's 'flying saucer' launch used Raven balloon

Photo: Courtesy NASA; This artist’s concept shows the test vehicle for NASA’s low-density supersonic decelerator, designed to test landing technologies for future Mars missions.

NASA's so-called flying saucer launch Monday had a super-sized connection to Sioux Falls-based Raven Industries Inc.

The balloon used in the launch was a high-altitude balloon from Raven Aerostar. It has a volume of 34 million cubic feet, measuring 460 feet wide and 396 feet tall. By comparison, the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol is 1.2 million cubic feet.

NASA's low-density supersonic decelerator project completed its test flight Monday when the saucer-shaped craft splashed down safely off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The decelerator, a flying-saucer shaped craft designed to slow spacecraft in thin atmospheres such as on asteroids and on Mars, launched from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility using the Raven balloon. After it was carried to an altitude of almost 120,000 feet, the test vehicle separated from the balloon. An on-board rocket motor ignited and continued to carry the vehicle to almost 180,000 feet.

NASA tested two technologies — a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator and a supersonic parachute. The decelerator deployed and inflated. The supersonic parachute also deployed but didn't inflate.

The decelerator is designed to help land spacecraft and, someday, humans on Mars.

Raven considered the launch successful in terms of its products. The balloon was able to carry the 8,000-pound payload to its float altitude for a test to start. While the supersonic deceleration parachute tested didn't inflate, a recovery parachute for the balloon, which Raven made, worked well.

SOURCE Sioux Falls Business Journal