A large inflatable heat shield has survived a trip through Earth’s atmosphere while travelling at up to 7,600mph. The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE-3, was launched by a rocket from a Nasa base on Wallops Island, off Virginia. The aim was to show a spacecraft can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters a planet’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed.
James Reuther, the deputy director of Nasa’s Space Technology Programme, said: “This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space.”
IRVE-3 consists of a cone of uninflated rings covered by a thermal blanket of layered, heat-resistant materials.
It was launched from a three-stage Black Brant XI rocket for its sub-orbital flight.
About six minutes into the flight, the 308kg (680lb) inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, and its payload separated from the launch vehicle’s nose cone about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.
The IRVE-3 aeroshell was pumped full of nitrogen until it expanded to a mushroom shape around three metres (10ft) in diameter.
The aeroshell then plummeted at hypersonic speeds through the 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 re-entry.
The craft landed in the Atlantic Ocean, where a US Navy Stiletto ship was on hand to recover it.
Temperature and pressure data from the shield will be studied to help develop future designs.
Lesa Roe, the director of Nasa’s Langley Research Centre, said: “A team of Nasa engineers and technicians spent the last three years preparing for the IRVE-3 flight.
“We are pushing the boundaries with this flight. We look forward to future test launches of even bigger inflatable aeroshells.”
Read the original article on Daily Fast News