And if all goes well, it might one day help humans safely land on Mars.
NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) is designed to act as a drag device and slow down a hypersonic spacecraft as it enters the thin Martian atmosphere.
The LDSD is essentially an inflatable donut-shaped balloon attached to a rocket-powered disc and its main goal is to assist in the safe landing of heavy cargo. It would be positioned in front of the spacecraft, creating drag and reducing the speed to twice the speed of sound (Mach 2). A parachute would then deploy, slowing things down to a more manageable, subsonic speed.
The current landing technology has been in use since the 1970s, when it helped land the Viking probes on Mars. It can only land one metric ton and because of this limitation, it needs to be overhauled.
NASA is currently testing two designs, one with a diameter of 20 feet and the other slightly larger. They will continue testing throughout 2015 and if all goes well, we might even see a new mission to Mars, as early as 2020.