NASA Tests Umbrella-like Heat Shield For Future Space Missions

Posted: Sep 14 2018, 1:30pm CDT | by , Updated: Sep 14 2018, 1:37pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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NASA Tests Umbrella-like Heat Shield for Future Space Missions
Credit: NASA

The new flexible heat shield opens like an umbrella.

NASA has successfully completed a dramatic test of its new revolutionary heat shield. The heat shield, called Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology or ADEPT, is a foldable device that opens like an umbrella. It was carried by a suborbital rocket from Spaceport America in New Mexico on September 12. This squeezable heat shield with unique design could one day be used for delivering large payloads on the surface of other planets.

Spacecraft require reliable heat shields to protect against the extreme heat of entering a planet's atmosphere. When a spacecraft approaches a planet at speeds tens of thousands of miles per hour, it compresses atmospheric gas and creates pressure shock, which in turn generates intense heat around a spacecraft. The new umbrella-like head shield has been designed to withstand the extreme conditions, heat and pressures. It also slows a spacecraft while landing a planetary surface.

“For a deployable like ADEPT, you can do ground-based testing, but ultimately, a flight test demonstrates end-to-end functionality – surviving launch environments, deploying in zero gravity and the vacuum of space, holding that rigid shape and then entering, in our case, Earth’s atmosphere.” Paul Wercinski, ADEPT project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said.

Heat shields are typically stiff and rigid. With spacecraft becoming larger and heavier than ever before, the squeezable heat shield could be useful for future space missions.

“Typically, heat shields are rigid structures, but this one can actually deploy in space. What that allows you to do is to get around the volume constraints of a typical launch vehicle that are long and slender.” Brandon Smith, NASA’s principal investigator on the project, said in a statement.

The shield is made from flexible 3D woven carbon fabric and supported by semi-rigid ribs and struts. It becomes fully rigid when flexed.

“Carbon fabric has been the major recent breakthrough enabling this technology, as it utilizes pure carbon yarns that are woven three-dimensionally to give you a very durable surface,” said Wercinski. “Carbon is a wonderful material for high temperature applications.”

During the test, the heat shield separated from the rocket and unfolded around 100 kilometers above the Earth. Then, it safely returned to Earth, landing at White Sands Missile Range. It took about 15 minutes to complete the test. The maximum speed was 2,300 miles per hour during the test, which is three times the speed of sound.

“The flight tested the heat shield’s deployment sequence and entry performance.” NASA statement reads.

Next, researchers will conduct a test with higher orbital speeds, roughly 17,000 miles per hour. It would allow larger spacecraft to successfully land on other planets within the solar system like Venus or Mars and also bring samples back to Earth from lunar missions.

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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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