Researchers Develop Spinning Heat Shield For Future Spacecraft

Posted: Aug 11 2018, 12:26am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 11 2018, 12:29am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Researchers Develop Spinning Heat Shield for Future Spacecraft
Credit: University of Manchester

New flexible heat shield could reduce the cost of space travel

Researchers are developing an innovative way to design and manufacture more reliable heat shields for future spacecraft. The new heat shield is skirt-shaped and displays a controlled spin like a sycamore seed as it falls. Researchers believe that the new technique could reduce the cost of space travel and even assist future space missions to Mars and beyond.

Heat shields have several purposes. Some are specifically designed to withstand the extreme conditions and temperature fluctuations during a mission while others are used as the brakes to stop spacecraft burning up and crashing on re-entry into a planet's atmosphere. Most current spacecraft heat shields involve huge inflatables that are heavy and complicated to use. But a new prototype heat shield from University of Manchester is lightweight and also self-regulating. It requires no additional machinery or structures to reduce the weight of a spacecraft.

"Spacecraft for future missions must be larger and heavier than ever before, meaning that heat shields will become increasingly too large to manage." Rui Wu, a University of Manchester Ph.D. student, said.

A spacecraft enters a planet’s atmosphere at blistering speed. For instance, the fast reentry into Earth's atmosphere generates so much heat (over 10,000 ˚C) that the air around the spacecraft can burn into plasma. A protective shield dissipates heat as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere. To reach the surface of other planets like Mars, spacecraft will require heat shields that are capable of withstanding very thin and extreme entry atmosphere.

"If Earth re-entry is like diving into thick honey, Mars entry would be like diving into water," said Wu.

The new heat shield is made of a soft flexible material. However, it is strong enough to avoid burn up, generate drag and carry heavy loads. Such reliable heat shield is critical for assuring deep space missions’ success.

"More and more research is being conducted in space, but this is usually very expensive and the equipment has to share a ride with other vehicles,” said Wu.

"Since this prototype is lightweight and flexible enough for use on smaller satellites, research could be made easier and cheaper. The heat shield would also help save cost in recovery missions, as its high induced drag reduces the amount of fuel burned upon re-entry."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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