"When fully deployed, the balloon itself is over 34 million cubic feet."
Washington, June 10 - US space agency NASA has delayed till Wednesday the maiden test flight of a saucer-shaped experimental vehicle -- named Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) -- in the Hawaiian island of Kauai due to inclement weather, officials said.
The test will play a vital role in Mars exploration by making it possible to land heavier spacecraft on the Red Planet.
Strong winds have caused many delays, postponing the launch to June 5, June 7, June 9 and now June 11.
Wind conditions have been the prevailing factor in the launch delays, as they have to be just the right speed and direction in order to launch the balloon that carries the LDSD test vehicle, NASA officials said.
The new technology for its flight to Mars is inspired by the behaviour of Hawaiian pufferfish, which are poor swimmers but can quickly take huge amounts of water to turn themselves into a virtually inedible ball several times their normal size.
For the Hawaiian pufferfish it is simply a defence mechanism, but for NASA it is potentially the element that has significant ramifications for the future of space exploration.
LDSD will use a 20-feet diameter, solid rocket-powered balloon-like vessel called a Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) to test these capabilities. To reach the desired altitude of 120,000 feet, the LDSD project will use a helium-filled scientific balloon provided by NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.
When fully deployed, the balloon itself is over 34 million cubic feet.
At that size alone, one could fit a professional football stadium inside it, NASA explained.