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When a large experimental heat shield blew up in space and crashed into Earth’s harsh atmosphere, the aeroshell survived — and NASA officials deemed it a “huge success.”
Demonstration technology may be the basis of a technology port that puts humans on the surface of Mars.
The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test Demonstration Technology Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, joined the November 10 ride to space as a secondary payload along with the Polar Articulation System-II, a polar satellite.
After LOFTID separated from the polar satellite and inflated, the air aerosol entered the atmosphere from low Earth orbit.
Upon reentry, LOFTID faced temperatures that reached 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,649 degrees Celsius) and reached speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour (28,968 kilometers per hour) — the ultimate test of materials for building an inflatable structure, which included ceramic fabric. a fabric called silicon carbide.
The heat shield and backup data from the recorders in the Pacific Ocean about two hours after launch, hundreds of miles off the coast of Hawaii, where the team was on a boat arranged to recover.
The preliminary data helped the team determine if the aeroshell was effective for deceleration and survival in low-Earth ocean orbit. The result: “It’s pretty resonant,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
A full LOFTID performance study is expected in about a year.
The mission aims to test the technology of an inflatable heat shield that could return larger robotic missions to Venus or Saturn’s Titan or the moon, or return hundreds of missions to Earth. The types of aeroshells, or heat shields, used depend on the size of the rocket shell. But the inflatable aeroshell circumvented that dependence — and opened up more serious missions to different planets.
The LOFTID demonstration measured approximately twenty feet (6 meters) across.
When a starship enters a planet’s atmosphere, it is hit with aerodynamic forces that will slow it down. On Mars, where the atmosphere is less than 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, extra help is needed to create the traction needed to slowly and safely create a spaceship.
That’s why NASA engineers envision a large deployable aeroshell like the LOFTID, which is equipped with an inflatable and flexible heat shield, that could be worn down through the Martian atmosphere. Aeroshell is designed for greater drag in the aether atmosphere to help speed up the slower space, which also prevents some super intense heating.
Currently, NASA can land 1 metric ton on the surface of Mars, like a car-size persistence hacker. But something like LOFTID could land between 20 to 40 thousand metric tons (44,092 to 88,184 pounds) on Mars, said Joe Del Corso, LOFTID project manager at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
When the recovery team pulled the aeroshell from the ocean, they were surprised that it was “absolutely pristine,” said John DiNonno, LOFTID chief engineer at NASA Langley.
In fact, the inflatable structure is in such good condition, it looks like it can be returned and flown again, DiNonno said, but it needs detailed testing before making such a determination.
Still a lot of information to process, including specific LOFTID temperatures at different points in flight.
After the full study is complete, scientists could use the findings to work on the next, larger generation of LOFTID. The experiment wanted to fit the demo with the Polar satellite. Next, LOFTID needs to test how it performs on a Mars mission, which could increase its size three to four times.
The mission, which was launched just days before the Artemis 1 mega moon rocket was lifted off on its way to the moon and back, is a “huge victory” that shares a common goal with the Artemis program, which aims to send humans to the moon and back. finally the sailors land on Mars.
“In order to put people in space on the moon or send them to Mars, we need stuff – lots of it – so we need to put a lot of mass in space,” Del Corso said.
“We now have the ability to both place and return heavy payloads into space. These two successes are huge steps toward human access and exploration. We’re in space and we want to stay there.”
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