The bigger picture: Nasa’s inflatable heat shield
Image credit: Nasa/Cover Images
Looking ahead to missions to Mars with Nasa’s large inflatable aeroshell.
Nasa has revealed an ‘inflatable heat shield’ that may change future space missions. ‘LOFTID’ (Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator) is set to be launched in November. Once in orbit, it will inflate, before descending back to Earth.
Nasa hopes that a large inflatable aeroshell protected by a heat shield could slow down a spacecraft enough to survive atmospheric entry. If successful, the technology could eventually allow humans to land on Mars.
One challenge Nasa faces is delivering heavy payloads safely to destinations with an atmosphere, stating “current rigid aeroshells are constrained by a rocket’s shroud size. One answer is an inflatable aeroshell that can be deployed to a scale much larger than the shroud.” LOFTID’s aeroshell will measure six metres in diameter.
The agency will launch the structure aboard an Atlas V rocket as a secondary payload with the Joint Polar Surveyor System-2 (JPSS-2). After JPSS-2 reaches orbit, the LOFTID re-entry vehicle will be put on a trajectory from low-Earth orbit to demonstrate its ability to decelerate and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
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