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NASA's Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator

NASA's new Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project is the latest way to take on the heat of entry that spacecraft encounter when entering the atmosphere of a planet.


(NASA's Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator )

Now being prepared for a demonstration flight under the HIAD initiative is the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment Three, or in NASA lingo, IRVE-3. IRVE work is one endeavor within OCT’s Game Changing Development program.

This technology would be ideal for use on a number of proposed NASA missions, from Mars, to Venus, or even Titan, a moon of Saturn. Nearer to home, quite literally, HIAD-inspired know-how can be applied to returning payloads heading for Earth that are dispatched from the International Space Station.

“If a planet has an atmosphere…we can use it,” says F. McNeil (Neil) Cheatwood, Principal Investigator for the IRVE program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The objective of the upcoming suborbital test flight of IRVE is to show that a spacecraft hot footing its way back to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield—or aeroshell—to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds.

Likewise, an inflatable heat shield would not be constrained by the fairing diameter of a launch vehicle, translating into a larger, more capable payload that can be flown.

Fans of golden age sf great EE 'Doc' Smith recall the ablative heat shield used in his 1934 novel Triplanetary; the device was used to jump from a supersonic plane traveling at 2,000 miles per hour at the very edge of the atmosphere:

Back toward the trailing edges then, to a small escape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball... He gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum... He rolled the ball out onto the hatch, where he opened it: two hinged hemispheres, each heavily padded with molded composition resembling sponge rubber...

...He curled up into one half of the ball; the other half closed over him and locked. The hatch opened. Ball and closely-prisoned man plummeted downward..

And as the ball bulleted downward on a screaming slant, it shrank!

...a synthetic which air-friction would erode away, molecule by molecule, so rapidly that no perceptible fragment of it would reach ground.

Via NASA Office of the Chief Technologist.

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