NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) hangs from a launch tower at U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.
The saucer-shaped vehicle will test two devices for landing heavy payloads on Mars: an inflatable donut-shaped device and a supersonic parachute.
The launch tower helps link the vehicle to a balloon; once the balloon floats up, the vehicle is released from the tower and the balloon carries it to high altitudes. The vehicle's rocket takes it to even higher altitudes, to the top of the stratosphere, where the supersonic test begins.
NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the LDSD mission, a cooperative effort led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA's Technology Demonstration Mission program manages LDSD at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia, coordinated support with the Pacific Missile Range Facility, provided the core electrical systems for the test vehicle, and coordinated the balloon and recovery services for the LDSD test.
For more information about the LDSD space technology demonstration mission: http://go.usa.gov/kzZQz.
Photojournal Note: After thorough examination, NASA managers have decided to suspend the planned March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission. The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload.