Washington: A large inflatable heat shield to demonstrate how a space capsule can slowdown and protect itself while entering Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds has been successfully tested by NASA.
The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) was launched by sounding rocket yesterday from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and survived a trip through Earth's atmosphere, while travelling at a speeds of 7,600 mph, NASA said in a statement.
The purpose of the IRVE-3 test was to show that a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, or as it returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station.
"It's great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator," said James Reuther, deputy director of NASA's Space Technology Program.
"This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space," said Reuther.
About 6 minutes into the flight, the 680-pound inflatable aeroshell or heat shield, and its payload separated from the launch vehicle's 22-inch-diameter nose cone about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.
An inflation system pumped nitrogen into the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it expanded to a mushroom shape almost 10 feet in diameter. Then the aeroshell plummeted at hypersonic speeds through Earth's atmosphere.
"A team of NASA engineers and technicians spent the last three years preparing for the IRVE-3 flight," said Lesa Roe, director of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
"We are pushing the boundaries with this flight. We look forward to future test launches of even bigger inflatable aeroshells." Roe said.
First Published: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 17:57