NASA hypersonic inflatable tech test set for Virginia launch July 21

Jul 18, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA Space Technology Program researchers will launch and deploy a large inflatable heat shield aboard a rocket travelling at hypersonic speeds this weekend during a technology demonstration test from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

NASA has four consecutive days of opportunities for the agency's Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3), starting July 21, with the liftoff window from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. EDT each day.

The test is designed to demonstrate lightweight, yet strong, inflatable structures that could become practical tools for exploration of other worlds or as a way to return items safely to Earth from the . During this test flight, NASA's IRVE-3 payload will try to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at -- Mach 5, or 3,800 mph to 7,600 mph.

"As we investigate new ways to bring cargo back to Earth from the International Space Station and innovative ways to land larger payloads safely on Mars, it's clear we need to invest in new technologies that will enable these goals," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "IRVE-3 is precisely the sort of cross-cutting technology NASA's Space Technology Program should mature to make these future NASA and commercial space endeavors possible."

The IRVE-3 experiment will fly aboard a three-stage Black Brant XI launch vehicle for its suborbital flight. The payload and the , which looks like a large, uninflated cone of inner tubes, will be packed inside the rocket's 22-inch-diameter nose cone. About six minutes after launch, the rocket will climb to an altitude of about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.

At that point, the 680-pound IRVE-3 will separate from the rocket. An inflation system similar to air tanks used by scuba divers will pump into the IRVE-3 until it becomes almost 10 feet in diameter. Instruments on board, including and heat flux gauges, as well as cameras, will provide data to engineers on the ground of how well the inflated heat shield performs during the force and heat of entry into Earth's atmosphere.

After its flight, IRVE-3 will fall into the Atlantic Ocean about 350 miles down range from Wallops. From launch to splash down, the flight is expected to take approximately 20 minutes.

"We originally came up with this concept because we'd like to be able to land more mass and access higher altitudes on Mars," said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "To do so you need more drag. We're seeking to maximize the drag area of the entry system. We want to make it as big as we can. The limitation with current technology has been the launch vehicle diameter."

Cheatwood and a team of NASA engineers and technicians have spent the last three years addressing the technical challenges of materials withstanding the heat created by atmospheric entry and preparing for the IRVE-3 flight. The team has studied designs, assessed materials in laboratories and wind tunnels, and subjected hardware to thermal and pressure loads beyond what the inflatable spacecraft technology should face during flight.

This test is a follow on to the successful IRVE-2, which showed an could survive intact after coming through Earth's atmosphere. IRVE-3 is the same size as IRVE-2, but has a heavier payload and will be subjected to a much higher reentry heat.

IRVE-3 is part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Project within the Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA's Program. Langley developed and manages the IRVE-3 and HIAD projects.

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scintilla
5 / 5 (3) Jul 18, 2012
"During this technology demonstration test flight, NASA's IRVE-3 payload will try to re-enter Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds -- Mach 5, or 3,800 mph to 7,600 mph."

It will have to cope with entry speeds at least double this to be of practical use for even LEO return. But lightweight structures undergoing carefully controlled re-entry are definitely the future, hope the test goes well.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jul 18, 2012
It will have to cope with entry speeds at least double this to be of practical use for even LEO return


From this part
We originally came up with this concept because we'd like to be able to land more mass and access higher altitudes on Mars

I'm thinking they are predominantly developing this for Mars missions. Entry speeds for Mars are likely higher, but atmospheric density is lower. So heat buildup might be lower? (Although I have no idea whether less atmosphere hinders heat transport by convection off the shield - I.e. whether a low density atmosphere is, overall, a boon or a curse).
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2012
Entry speeds for Mars are likely higher, but atmospheric density is lower. So heat buildup might be lower? (Although I have no idea whether less atmosphere hinders heat transport by convection off the shield - I.e. whether a low density atmosphere is, overall, a boon or a curse).


The problem is that there is too little atmosphere. On earth, the atmosphere is tall, which means you can start slowing down at a relatively high altitude. Mars has less gravity, so would think the re-entry speed would be less, EXCEPT the top of the atmosphere is MUCH lower. That means gravity keeps speeding you up exponentially unitl you finally get down far enough for friction to overcome gravity. That leaves you relatively close to the ground, still moving like a bat out of hell. So you have to generate enough friction to counter your momentum in a much shorter time than you would have here on Earth. You could make a 3 meter heat shield with texture to get the friction, but

Continued:
Deathclock
3 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2012
*edit*

nevermind...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2012
That leaves you relatively close to the ground, still moving like a bat out of hell. So you have to generate enough friction to counter your momentum in a much shorter time than you would have here on Earth. You could make a 3 meter heat shield with texture to get the friction, but
...you could instead read about what NASA has designed for Curiosity, which doesnt apparently need a 3 meter heat shield. W_T_F
http://www.nasa.g...dex.html

Here - from physorg itself

"During a critical period lasting only about seven minutes, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity must decelerate from about 13,200 mph (about 5,900 meters per second) to allow the rover to land on the surface at about 1.7 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second). Curiosity is scheduled to land at approximately 10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6)."
http://phys.org/n...eks.html
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2012
...but that means the heat is more intense (more friction). By using an inflatable heat shield you can make a heat sheild wider than your rocket cowling, and spread that friction over a larger surface area.

As it is right now, landings on Mars are kinda like playing chicken with the planet. Everything we have sent has its mass limited to the maximum we think we can slow down in time to stop. The MSL will be the heaviest thing we have tried to land, thanks to a new kind of heat shield. People will never be able to get to Mars unless we can figure out a way to slow down much heavier objects than the MSL. Sure, you could get a person down, but we can't currently land anything big enough to get a person back up again.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2012
...you could instead read about what NASA has designed for Curiosity, which doesnt apparently need a 3 meter heat shield. W_T_F


Yeah, lol. Curiosity's heat shield is actually 4.5 meters (the largest ever made). How do you not remember any of the stories you read here? I know you have read about Curiosity's heat shield on this very web site. There's been several stories.