NASA Will Soon Test This Massive Inflatable Heat Shield In Low Earth Orbit

NASA has successfully crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

The next step for the agency is to test a large inflatable aeroshell that could one day be used to deploy large payloads on Mars safely and other planets in the Solar System, a blog post from NASA reveals.

Mars’s atmosphere is much less dense than that of the Earth. Hence, when a spacecraft glides through its air, it takes longer to slow down as less friction is experienced. This makes it a risky territory.

NASA will soon test its large deployable LOFTID aeroshell. The agency will launch the massive structure on November 1 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket.

LOFTID’s aeroshell is a huge circular inflatable body with a flexible heat shield outside. The six-meter-diameter (20 feet) aeroshell will function as a large brake system as it traverses through the atmosphere. It will create more drag than the smaller aeroshells.

The structure enables the body to slow down at higher altitudes in the upper atmosphere and experience less heat. On its website, NASA says the “technology [will enable] a variety of proposed NASA missions to destinations such as Mars, Venus, Titan as well as return to Earth.”

For the demonstration test on November 1, LOFTID will inflate as it comes down from low-Earth orbit. If it turns out to be successful, NASA says the technology could be used in future crew landing missions and for sending robotic missions to Mars and returning heavier payloads to Earth.

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