NASA Successfully Tests Hypersonic Inflatable Heat Shield Technology

Posted on July 25, 2012

NASA Heat Shield

NASA successfully tested its Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) on Monday. The purpose of the IRVE-3 test was to show that a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, or as it returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station. NASA says this inflatable heat shield technology could someday transform planetary exploration because it could allow spacecraft to carry larger, heavier scientific instruments and other tools for exploration. NASA has a Twitter account for the technology, @NASA_HIAD.

IRVE-3 is a cone of uninflated high-tech rings covered by a thermal blanket of layers of heat resistant materials. It launched from a three-stage Black Brant rocket for its suborbital flight. About 6 minutes into the flight the 680-pound heat shield and its payload separated from the launch vehicle's nose cone about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean. An inflation system pumped nitrogen into the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it expanded to a mushroom shape nearly 10 feet in diameter. Then the aeroshell plummeted at hypersonic speeds through Earth's atmosphere. Engineers in the Wallops control room watched as four onboard cameras confirmed the inflatable shield held its shape despite the force and high heat of reentry.

Image: NASA

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