Pack an Umbrella, We're Going to Mars: All Systems Go For NASA's Innovative Folding Heat Shield

Thursday, 13 September 2018 - 11:58AM
Technology
Thursday, 13 September 2018 - 11:58AM
Pack an Umbrella, We're Going to Mars: All Systems Go For NASA's Innovative Folding Heat Shield
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Credit: NASA Ames Research Center
An umbrella's design is great for keeping you mostly dry on soggy days, but it is also a great space saver. According to New AtlasNASA has borrowed that folding design for its new Adaptable Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) heat shield, which just passed its first flight test with flying colors.

At Spaceport America in New Mexico on Wednesday, ADEPT was launched for a 15-minute flight with a suborbital rocket made by UP Aerospace. Reuters reports that the heat shield deployed somewhere between the 100 and 120 kilometer mark, then opened and successfully landed at White Sands Missile Range. The "game-changing" new shield design will allow NASA to protect larger payloads from extreme temperatures as spacecrafts enter a planet's atmosphere. While currently used shield designs are rounded and made of a material called phenolic plastic, the new folding shield is made of 3D-woven carbon fibers that are lighter and less rigid. That change in weight and rigidity means that manufacturers won't have to overcompensate with much larger rockets just to get payloads into orbit, which means less money spent. The carbon fiber mats are also more efficient because of how they re-radiate heat before it can pass through the insulation material. And when they are not needed, they can be folded and stowed away.

"At the larger scales, it could be used for something as grand as human Mars explorations, or potentially human cargo landings on Mars," Brandon Smith of NASA told Reuters at the launch site.

"For a deployable like ADEPT, you can do ground-based testing, but ultimately, a flight test demonstrates end-to-end functionality – surviving launch environments, deploying in zero gravity and the vacuum of space, holding that rigid shape and then entering, in our case, Earth's atmosphere," ADEPT project manager Paul Wercinski said. Wednesday's launch was not at a fast enough speed to test heating, but NASA has more launches planned that will get the new tech up to 17,000MPH. Check out the video below of ADEPT showing off its impressive wingspan and flapping abilities.

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