NASA calls test of inflatable heat shield a success

WASHINGTON — A NASA demonstration of an inflatable warmth defend confirmed the know-how labored and will be scaled up for missions on Earth and Mars, undertaking leaders stated Nov. 17.

NASA flew the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) as a secondary payload on the Atlas 5 launch of a weather satellite Nov. 10. The payload inflated a warmth defend six meters in diameter that separated from the rocket’s Centaur higher stage and reentered over the Pacific, splashing down east of Hawaii.

Whereas engineers are simply starting the method of analyzing information collected by LOFTID throughout its reentry, undertaking officers concluded in a media teleconference that preliminary critiques proved that LOFTID labored as anticipated, shielding the payload from the warmth of reentry with out struggling injury.

“The demonstration was an enormous success,” Joe Del Corso, LOFTID undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Langley Analysis Middle, stated, basing that evaluation on these preliminary critiques.

The info they do have consists of cameras from contained in the automobile that monitored heating because it reentered in addition to the later deployment of its parachute. Crews later recovered LOFTID in addition to a knowledge recorder ejected throughout its descent as a backup in case the automobile couldn’t be recovered.

“I couldn’t be happier with the best way this mission went and with what we’re seeing thus far,” stated John DiNonno, LOFTID chief engineer at NASA Langley. He stated engineers are nonetheless working to get all the information collected by LOFTID downloaded and transformed into usable codecs, one thing he stated would take a “appreciable period of time.”

The preliminary evaluation, he stated, confirmed uniform heating of the aeroshell throughout reentry. The aeroshell regarded “pristine” with any injury primarily coming from the splashdown and restoration, fairly than the reentry itself. “It appears to be like as by the inflatable construction may fly once more.”

There aren’t any plans to fly LOFTID once more, however undertaking officers stated they’re working to scale up the know-how, known as Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD). Larger versions of the inflatable heat shield could be used for landing large spacecraft on Mars. United Launch Alliance, which partnered with NASA on the LOFTID flight, can be excited about utilizing the know-how to get well the engine part of its Vulcan rocket for reuse.

“Scaling up can be a subsequent step for us,” stated Trudy Kortes, director of know-how demonstrations in NASA’s Area Expertise Mission Directorate. That work, she stated, can be guided by present know-how roadmaps the company makes use of to prioritize work in numerous areas, together with entry, descent and touchdown techniques. “We’re looking at that now and within the short-term future.”

Mars missions would want aeroshells 20 meters or extra in diameter, far bigger than LOFTID, six meters throughout. That may create points with amenities at NASA for producing them and performing floor checks, she famous.

Flight testing such a big aeroshell can even be a problem. Del Corso stated that NASA has checked out methods of demonstrating it by returning a Cygnus cargo spacecraft and even an Worldwide Area Station module. “Even then, it doesn’t fairly get to the mass that basically must display 18- to 20-meter scale” aeroshells, Del Corso stated, as these gadgets would solely require an aeroshell 10 to 12 meters throughout. “We actually want a heavy mass to convey again with a view to get to related circumstances for 18 to twenty meters.”

He stated that NASA is finalizing a Area Act Settlement with ULA on making use of LOFTID know-how for the corporate’s Wise Modular Autonomous Return Expertise (SMART) reusability idea, the place an inflatable warmth defend can be used to assist get well the Vulcan booster’s engine part. “They’ve clearly been very excited” concerning the know-how, he stated.

Del Corso additionally in contrast the success of LOFTID with the inaugural launch of the heavy-lift Area Launch System Nov. 16 on the Artemis 1 mission. “We’ve got now the flexibility to each put heavy payloads into house and to convey them again down,” he stated. “These two successes are enormous steps in enabling human entry and exploration.”

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