Nasa’s new heat shield may help humans get to Mars

Mindy Sparks
Сентября 15, 2018

The U.S. space agency has launched and tested an umbrella-like shield on Wednesday.

As Reuters reports, the new heat shield is called ADEPT, which stands for Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology. NASA's foldable heat shield looks like an umbrella, but it does much more than an umbrella. The shield, which would be situated on the front of a spacecraft as it enters a planet's atmosphere, opens like a flower and blocks the intense heat from damaging or destroying the ship itself.

"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", said Paul Wercinski, ADEPT project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

NASA tested the new heat shield this week, launching its test rocket from New Mexico and monitoring the deployment of the shield as the rocket made reentry. The ADEPT demonstrator modified into once launched this day on a 15-minute suborbital flight that lofted it to an altitude of 60 miles (96 km) sooner than it separated from the sounding rocket and unfolded while traveling at over Mach three (2,300 mph, three, 700 km/h).

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NASA is preparing to send a new rover robotic lander to Mars in 2020 and plans to send human astronauts in 2033. With all that in mind, NASA debuted an entirely new kind of heat shield this week, and it might be a ideal fit for future missions to Mars and beyond.

The goal of sending humans to Mars was set in 2010 during the administration of President Barack Obama and was affirmed by President Donald Trump last December. The aeroshell's carbon fabric skin covers the rocket's structural surface and is used as the initial component in a rocket's landing thermal protection system. It deployed between 100 and 120 kilometers before opening and making its way back to Earth, landing at White Sands Missile Range.

Data gathered from the test will not be available until the shield is recovered, officials said. NASA also had to assess the aerodynamic stability of the heat shield as it enters the Earth's atmosphere and falls to the recovery site.

The next steps for ADEPT are to develop and conduct a test for an Earth entry at higher "orbital" speeds, roughly 17,000 miles per hour.

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