As Nasa looks to launch a new mission to Mars with a larger payload, the agency is investigating new options to safely land on the red planet.
Nasa still plans to use atmospheric drag rather than rockets to slow the lander in order to save fuel, but the bigger the payload means that much more drag will be needed in comparison to the lander which held the Curiosity Rover.
One of the options being developed as part of Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) mission is a flying-saucer-shaped test vehicle with 30.5m diameter parachute, twice as big as used to safely land Curiosity, sewn into the underside.
Before the parachute is launched, Nasa hopes to slow the vehicle, dubbed SIAD-R, by expanding an inner tube that can inflate in a fraction of a second, increasing the diameter of the ‘flying saucer’ from 4.5m to 6m.
The size of the parachute has meant that the landing could not be tested in one of Nasa’s wind tunnels, and instead over Hawaii in June Nasa will carry the vehicle to a height of 55,000m by balloon and then rocket, before testing how the vehicle performs.