Vid NASA is promising a bit of live Martian flying-saucer action on Tuesday with a "spin-table" test of its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) – the future Mars payload delivery tech which may one day combine airbags and parachutes to safely place kit on the Red Planet's surface.
From 1700 to 1800 GMT, you'll be able to watch the LDSD from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, before the saucer is shipped off to Hawaii for a rocket-powered stratospheric ballocket flight.
Last year, the agency successfully dropped an LDSD from an enormous helium-filled orb at 36,500m (119,751ft) over the Pacific, blasted it to 55,000m (180,446ft)and Mach 4, after which the vehicles's "Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator" (SIAD) airbags slowed it to a modest Mach 2.5.
At this point, the "Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute" designed to further slow the craft ahead of a gentle touch-down failed to fully deploy. Nonetheless, since NASA considered SIAD and 'chute "bonus" elements of the first flight, it's hoping the next jaunt in June will come down with less of a bang.
The point of this high-altitude tomfoolery is that Earth's upper atmosphere is a good substitute for the rarified conditions closer to Mars's surface. NASA hopes its new tech will up the current delivery capability "of 1.5 metric tons to 2 to 3 metric tons".
That's absolutely lovely, but we at El Reg are rather more impressed with the helium balloon required to lift the LDSD to launch altitude. When fully deployed, it's 963,000 cubic metres - big enough "fit a professional football stadium inside it" - or the equivalent of 384.76 Olympic-sized swimming pools. ®