NASA is about to test one of its latest creations – and it just might spark a wave of UFO sightings.
It might look like something you’d see in a 1950s sci-fi movie, but this intriguing saucer-shaped disc is actually a new type of inflatable heat shield that could one day hold the key to the world. landing of humans on Mars.
Known as the HIAD (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator), the shield – in development for several years – is made up of several high-strength balloons designed to withstand the extreme temperatures encountered during atmospheric re-entry.
Next month it will launch from Vandenberg Space Base in California aboard a ULA Atlas V 401 rocket for a test mission called LOFTID (Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator) during which it will will extend to more than six meters in diameter.
What makes HIAD particularly useful is its ability to slow down large and heavy objects, in addition to protecting them when relocating, allowing – for example – large vehicles to land on other worlds.
This function could prove crucial in the future, when much larger and heavier spacecraft will be needed to land habitation modules, supplies and equipment on Mars.
“Because HIAD technology is larger than traditional aerial hulls, it creates more drag and begins the deceleration process in the upper part of the atmosphere, allowing not only heavier payloads, but also landing at lower higher altitudes,” NASA wrote in a statement.
“Mars’ atmosphere is much less dense than Earth’s and presents an extreme challenge for aerodynamic deceleration. The atmosphere is thick enough to provide some drag, but too thin to decelerate the spacecraft as quickly as in Earth’s atmosphere. »