NASA is testing a "flying saucer" designed to land on Mars and deliver large payloads to the Red Planet, and the agency has released a spectacular video of a high-altitude test conducted over Hawaii this past June. In it, the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) is brought up 180,000 feet high into earth's atmosphere, a place where conditions are similar to those on Mars. After confirming that the vehicle could fly in these conditions, NASA then tried to slow the craft down with two new technologies — a funky, donut-shaped "Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator" and a massive supersonic parachute. You can see in the video what happened next.
The saucer-shaped vehicle is unique because of its very high drag. NASA hopes that using a high-drag vehicle will allow it to expend less fuel during descent. Two more tests are planned, and engineers called the experiment a success — even though the parachute didn't fare very well. "We are literally re-writing the books on high-speed parachute operations, and we are doing it a year ahead of schedule," said Ian Clark of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.