The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

July 5, 2014

Above & beyond: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility crew aids in recent launch


Palestine sends more than fireworks into the earth's atmosphere — and it happens more often than on Independence Day.

A crew of 20 employees from Palestine’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility recently returned from a 3-month campaign at the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii where they tested a new technology designed to bring spacecraft — and one day even astronauts — safely down to Mars.

On Saturday, June 28, the team assisted in the launch of a $150 million experiment that is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) vehicle. Tests are being conducted at high altitude on Earth to mimic descent through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.

A balloon hauled the saucer-shaped craft 120,000 feet into the sky from a Navy missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then, the craft's own rocket boosted it to more than 30 miles high at supersonic speeds.

As the craft prepared to fall back to earth, a doughnut-shaped tube around it expanded, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute unfurled — but only partially. The vehicle made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean.

“It was the most technologically challenging and spectacular mission ever carried out in the 50 years that CSBF has been flying balloons,” CSBF Site Manager Danny R.J. Ball said about the project, which is the result of a joint effort among the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and the CSBF.

In April of 2012, NASA awarded New Mexico State University's Physical Science Laboratory a $12.5 million contract supplement to support the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's LDSD project, which aimed to get larger heavier payloads to land safely on Mars.

The reason behind the project, Ball said in 2012, is that NASA needs to land larger, heavier payloads on the surface of Mars.

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