A NASA flying saucer that will hopefully help to land large payloads on Mars is in the testing phase, potentially hitting operational status within a week.
NASA has been challenged by the basic principal that says the “bigger you are the harder you fall,” meaning it is harder to slow down a descent when the load is heavier and larger in mass.
Equipped with a heat shield, parachute, and inflatable doughnut-like apparatus surrounding the craft, the two-stage landing process outlined in the prototype will help to slow down the vehicle enough to avoid damage upon landing and impact. While the prototype, itself, is roughly 10 feet in diameter, the actual craft to be sent to Mars would be more like 100 feet in diameter.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to eventually send human beings to the red planet, but the first missions if successful would likely carry larger rovers. Even though the craft is scheduled to be tested within the week, it may be tested as early as tomorrow.
The next mission to Mars is set for 2020, a project that is currently running a year ahead of schedule and is designed to bring more rovers equipped to further explore Mars in more detail.