NASA will launch a huge flying saucer-like inflatable heat shield into space this week

NASA will launch a huge flying saucer-like inflatable heat shield into space this week

NASA will launch a huge flying saucer-like inflatable heat shield into space this week

If humans ever land safely on Marsengineers will have to invent a spacecraft that can slow down enough to survive atmospheric entry.

Known as the ‘seven minutes of terror’, in 2021 NASAThe Perseverance rover emerged unscathed after descending to the Red Planet with a simple parachute.

But the landing process is trickier for larger payloads, such as missiles with people on board.

Fortunately, the US space agency may have a solution to the problem, in the form of a large, flying saucer-like, inflatable heat shield that will launch into low Earth orbit this week.

Once there, the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an inflatable decelerator (LOFTID) will be inflated before descending back to Earth.

NASA hopes the test will show how the heat shield can act as a giant brake to slow down a future Mars spacecraft.

The technology will launch on Wednesday (Nov. 9) on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, alongside a JPSS-2 orbiting weather satellite in a polar orbit.

NASA will launch a huge flying saucer-like inflatable heat shield into space this week

If humans ever want to land safely on Mars, engineers will have to invent a spacecraft that can slow down enough to survive atmospheric entry. Fortunately, the US space agency may have a solution to the problem in the form of a large, flying saucer-like, inflatable heat shield that will launch into low Earth orbit this week.

Once there, the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an inflatable decelerator (LOFTID) will be inflated, before descending back to Earth

Once there, the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an inflatable decelerator (LOFTID) will be inflated, before descending back to Earth

If successful, the test could be key to helping NASA achieve its ambitious goal of launching humans to the Red Planet within the next decade.

If successful, the test could be key to helping NASA achieve its ambitious goal of launching humans to the Red Planet within the next decade.

What is LOFTID?

On Wednesday (Nov. 9), NASA will demonstrate new heat shield technology for the first time from low Earth orbit in the form of its Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID).

The heat shield will be launched into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, alongside a JPSS-2 orbiting weather satellite.

Once JPSS-2 reaches Earth orbit, the heat shield is inflated and placed into reentry trajectory from low Earth orbit to test its ability to slow down and survive reentry.

Once JPSS-2 reaches Earth orbit, the heat shield is inflated and placed on a low Earth orbit reentry trajectory to test its ability to slow down and survive the reentry.

If the test is a success, it could be crucial to help NASA reach its ambitious goal of launching humans to the Red Planet within the next decade.

“This technology can support landing crews and large robotic missions on Mars, as well as return heavier payloads to Earth,” the US space agency added.

When it comes to destinations with atmospheres, including Mars, Venus, Titan and Earth, one of the main challenges NASA faces is delivering heavy payloads.

As it stands, today’s rigid aeroshells are limited by the size of a rocket’s shell — the streamlined protective liner.

For example, you may remember the “seven minutes of terror” when NASA’s Perseverance rover used a parachute to descend to the surface of Mars last year.

Radio signals sent by NASA and vice versa take 10 minutes for both sides to make contact, so after the ground team told Perseverance to descend, the rover took over and made the epic journey all by itself.

The spacecraft rocketed through the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour, but had to slow down to zero miles per hour seven minutes later to land safely on the surface.

When a spacecraft enters an atmosphere, air resistance helps to slow it down.

However, Mars’ atmosphere is a lot less dense than Earth’s, posing an extreme challenge to aerodynamic deceleration.

“The atmosphere is thick enough to provide some resistance, but too thin to slow down the spacecraft as fast as Earth’s atmosphere,” explains NASA.

The agency’s solution to this problem is a 20-foot-wide heat shield that would be deployed in the upper atmosphere, allowing a spacecraft to slow down early while experiencing less intense heat.

It will be the largest butted-body aeroshell to ever pass through the atmospheric entry during this week’s test.

Upon delivery of the primary payload, the orbiting weather satellite, LOFTID will be released to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

It will slow from hypersonic, more than 25 times faster than the speed of sound, to subsonic flight, less than 609 miles per hour.

NASA hopes the test will show how the heat shield could act as a giant brake to slow down a future Mars spacecraft

NASA hopes the test will show how the heat shield could act as a giant brake to slow down a future Mars spacecraft

The heat shield is launched into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, alongside a JPSS-2 orbiting weather satellite

The heat shield is launched into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, alongside a JPSS-2 orbiting weather satellite

If successful, the test could be key to helping NASA achieve its ambitious goal of launching humans to the Red Planet within the next decade.

If successful, the test could be key to helping NASA achieve its ambitious goal of launching humans to the Red Planet within the next decade.

During flight, a real-time beacon periodically transmits limited data, while sensors and cameras acquire a more comprehensive data set that is stored on an internal data recorder and an ejectable data recorder that is jettisoned and recovered upon reentry.

LOFTID will deploy a parachute to allow a soft splash and will be retrieved from the Pacific Ocean.

NASA said the demonstration is poised to “revoke” the way it delivers payloads to planetary destinations with atmospheres.

It added that the inflatable delay technology is scalable for both manned and large robotic missions to Mars.

NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after the first landing on the moon

Mars has become the next great leap forward for human exploration of space.

But before humans reach the red planet, astronauts will take some small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a lunar orbit mission have been revealed as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA has outlined its four-phase plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held yesterday in Washington DC.  This will entail multiple missions to the moon in the coming decades

NASA has outlined its four-phase plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held yesterday in Washington DC. This will entail multiple missions to the moon in the coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policies and plans at NASAoutlined the space agency’s four-phase plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as the expected time frame.

Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for the construction of a habitat that will provide a staging point for the journey.

The final piece of hardware delivered would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to transport a crew to Mars.

And in 2027, a one-year simulation of life on Mars will be conducted.

Phases three and four will begin after 2030 and will include ongoing crew expeditions to the Martian system and the Martian surface.



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