Sailors assigned to the Explosive Ordnance Detachment of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 recover the test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator off Kauai, Hawaii. Navy photo
Sailors assigned to the Explosive Ordnance Detachment of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 recover the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator off Kauai, Hawaii. Navy photo

Navy divers successfully recovered NASA‘s “martian saucer” off Hawaii, even though the experimental craft’s parachute ripped at supersonic speed during a test on Monday.

The Navy released photos of the recovery on Wednesday, showing divers standing atop the vehicle. Parts of the craft were built by ATK in San Diego.

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator uses a combination of inflatable ring and giant parachute to slow the craft from supersonic speed. It is designed to lower large payloads safely to Mars.

A high-altitude balloon carrying the test vehicle rose at 7:45 a.m. Monday from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. The vehicle separated from the balloon at 120,000 feet above the ocean. Then a rocket motor fired to take the vehicle to 180,000 feet and supersonic speed.

The ring inflated, but the 100-foot-wide parachute — the largest supersonic parachute ever flown — appeared to shred under the speed and force.

“Early indications are that we got what we came for, new and actionable data on our parachute design,” said Mark Adler, project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “At present, our data is in the form of low-resolution video and some other nuggets of data which were downlinked in real-time.

“But this will soon change when our test vehicle makes port, and we have the opportunity to inspect the ultra-high resolution, high-speed imagery and other comprehensive information carried in the memory cards on board our saucer.”

NASA expects to make high-resolution imagery and comprehensive data from the test available to the public in about two weeks.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.