NASA's flying saucer has successfully made it to near-space, with the latest test flight for the experimental Mars lander pushing the boundaries of high-speed parachute deployment. The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) represents NASA's strategy for taking larger payloads safely down to the Martian surface, using both an inflatable air-brake and a vast parachute twice the size of that which set the Curiosity rover down.
If you've not been keeping up with NASA's more rounded spacecraft scheming, the LDSD is a test-bed for a number of new planetary deployment technologies pencilled in for future Mars missions. Among the innovations is the so-called Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD), a doughnut-shaped air brake which is blown up during descent and designed to trim speed from 3.8x to 2x the speed of sound.
Of course, that's still a fair rate to hit the ground at, and so it's at that point which the Supersonic Disksail Parachute kicks in. Billed by NASA as "the largest supersonic parachute ever flown," it helps the 7,000 pound craft slow even further.
NASA's engineers studded the latest prototype with a number of high-def video cameras, footage from which the JPL and other teams will use to figure out exactly what's happening during each stage of the trial.
The saucer had a wet landing, splashing down near Hawaii and recovered by divers.