Splashdown for ‘flying saucer’ designed to take astronauts to Mars

A saucer-shaped Nasa vehicle testing new technology for Mars landings made a successful rocket ride over the Pacific, but its massive descent parachute only partially unfurled.

The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator was lifted by balloon 120,000 feet into the air from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The vehicle then rocketed even higher before deploying a novel inflatable braking system.

But cheers rapidly died as a gigantic chute designed to slow its fall to splashdown in the ocean emerged tangled. Still, Nasa officials said it is a pretty good test of technology that might one day be used to deliver heavy spacecraft – and eventually astronauts – to Mars.

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Viewers around the world with an internet connection followed portions of the $150m (£88m) experimental flight in real time thanks to cameras on board the vehicle that beamed back low-resolution footage.

After taking off from Kauai, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the Pacific.

Its rocket motor then ignited, carrying the vehicle to 34 miles high at supersonic speeds.

As the vehicle prepared to drop back the Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute unfurled and guided the vehicle to an ocean splashdown about three hours later.

The test was postponed six times because of high winds.