NASA Engineers Work to Perfect Aeroshell Technology

NASA researchers have tested an almost 20-foot inflatable spacecraft heat shield in wind tunnels and laboratories. (Credit:  NASA/Kathy Barnstorff)
NASA researchers have tested an almost 20-foot inflatable spacecraft heat shield in wind tunnels and laboratories. (Credit: NASA/Kathy Barnstorff)

HAMPTON, Virg. (NASA PR) — For most of us it’s hard to imagine that something that is inflated can survive the high heat and friction of space travel, especially atmospheric entry.

But a group of NASA engineers, primarily based at NASA’s Langley Research Center, have been working to develop inflatable spacecraft aeroshell technology for more than a decade.

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Inflatable Heat Shield Launch Successful

inflatableheatshieldlaunch
Black Brant 9 rocket carrying the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

NASA MISSION UPDATE

A successful NASA flight test has shown that a spacecraft returning to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. This was the first time anyone has successfully flown an inflatable reentry capsule, according to engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE, was vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload “shroud” and launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. Nitrogen inflated the 10-foot (3 m) diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.

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NASA Langely Team to Study Hypersonic Shuttle Re-entry

NASA PRESS RELEASE

Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center have an added stake in this month’s space shuttle mission. Not only are they part of the impact assessment and aerothermodynamic heating teams, one group will be watching Atlantis’ return to earth, literally.

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NASA Ames, Langley Win Invention of the Year Awards

The scanner is used in a Mold Impression Laser Tool (MLT), a hand-held instrument used to scan space shuttle tiles to detect and measure the amount of any damage. Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center
The scanner is used in a Mold Impression Laser Tool (MLT), a hand-held instrument used to scan space shuttle tiles to detect and measure the amount of any damage. Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

NASA AMES PRESS RELEASE

NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., has been named the recipient of the 2008 NASA Government Invention of the Year Award. NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton Roads, Va., won the 2008 NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award.

Ames won the award for developing a “High Speed Three-Dimensional Laser Scanner with Real Time Processing.” The scanner is used in a Mold Impression Laser Tool (MLT), a hand-held instrument used to scan space shuttle tiles to detect and measure the amount of any damage.

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