Science

NASA’s Profitable Launch, Deployment, and Retrieval of LOFTID – An Modern Inflatable Warmth Defend

NASA’s Profitable Launch, Deployment, and Retrieval of LOFTID – An Modern Inflatable Warmth Defend

Illustration of Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). Credit score: NASA

On the morning of November 10, an Atlas V rocket launched JPSS-2, NOAA’s latest environmental satellite tv for pc into orbit. Hitching a experience on the rocket was NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). This mission demonstrated a cross-cutting aeroshell — a type of heat shield — for atmospheric re-entry.

For destinations with an atmosphere, one of the challenges NASA faces is how to deliver heavy payloads (experiments, equipment, and people) because current rigid aeroshells are constrained by a rocket’s shroud size. One answer is an inflatable aeroshell that can be deployed to a scale much larger than the shroud. This technology enables a variety of proposed NASA missions to destinations such as Mars, Venus, and Titan as well as return to Earth.

When a spacecraft enters an atmosphere, aerodynamic forces act upon it. Specifically, aerodynamic drag helps to slow it down, converting its kinetic energy into heat. Utilizing atmospheric drag is the most mass-efficient method to slow down a spacecraft.


NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, is demonstrating a cross-cutting aeroshell — a kind of warmth protect — for atmospheric re-entry. This animation options mission highlights for the launch of NASA’s cutting-edge entry, descent, and touchdown expertise: Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). Credit score: NASA

The ambiance of Mars is way much less dense than that of Earth and supplies an excessive problem for aerodynamic deceleration. The ambiance is thick sufficient to offer some drag, however too skinny to decelerate the spacecraft as shortly as it will in Earth’s ambiance. LOFTID’s massive deployable aeroshell — an inflatable construction protected by a versatile warmth protect — acts as an enormous brake because it traverses the Martian ambiance. The massive aeroshell creates extra drag than a standard, smaller inflexible aeroshell. It begins slowing down within the higher reaches of the ambiance, permitting the spacecraft to decelerate sooner, at greater altitude, whereas experiencing much less intense heating.

LOFTID is demonstrating a big aeroshell — 6 meters in diameter or about 20 toes — entry from low-Earth orbit, to exhibit this expertise in circumstances related to many potential functions. The advantages of utilizing the inflatable decelerator design for a wide range of house functions embody:

  • Low-Earth orbit return; free flyer, in-space manufactured supplies [3 to 6-meter scale]
  • Worldwide House Station down mass better than at the moment doable [8 to 12-meter scale]
  • Decrease price entry to house via launch automobile asset restoration [12-meter scale]

The inflatable decelerator expertise is scalable to each crewed and huge robotic missions to Mars.

On November 10, the launch, deployment, and restoration of LOFTID and its data capsule had been profitable. Now scientists should consider the info captured in the course of the take a look at to study in regards to the outcomes.

Right here is the blow-by-blow recounting of the occasions on November 10, starting with liftoff at 1:49 a.m. PST:


JPSS-2 Liftoff

Credit score: NASA TV

Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite tv for pc System-2 (JPSS-2) satellite tv for pc, with NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) expertise demonstration alongside for the experience, lifted off from House Launch Advanced-3 at Vandenberg House Pressure Base in California this morning, Nov. 10! Powered by 860,000 kilos of thrust from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket’s RD-180 engine, launch occurred at 1:49 a.m. PST.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket exceeded the velocity of sound round a minute into the flight, and shortly thereafter reached Max-Q – the second of most dynamic strain on the rocket. Subsequent up is the booster engine cutoff, adopted by the separation of the primary and second levels of the rocket.

Atlas V Payload Fairing JPSS 2 LOFTID

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing containing the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite tv for pc System-2 (JPSS-2) and NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) is contained in the cell service tower at House Launch Advanced-3 (SLC-3) at Vandenberg House Pressure Base in California on October 28, 2022. Credit score: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Booster engine cutoff occurred on time, the primary and second levels separated as deliberate, and the Centaur second stage predominant engine has began its burn. The payload fairing that protected the JPSS-2 satellite tv for pc in the course of the first minutes of ascent has jettisoned as anticipated. The second stage predominant engine will burn for simply over 12 minutes, taking the spacecraft in direction of the Equator and to low-Earth orbit.

United Launch Alliance’s Centaur higher stage has efficiently powered on the LOFTID re-entry automobile, kicking off the LOFTID mission sequence. About two minutes after energy on, Centaur launched the payload adapter that had related JPSS-2 to the rocket’s higher stage.

Restricted information will likely be obtained real-time in the course of the expertise demonstration. Different milestones are notional given the mission timeline and sequence.

Aeroshell inflation has began. As soon as the aeroshell reaches 4 kilos per sq. inch (psi) of strain, Centaur will start positioning LOFTID for re-entry.

After orienting LOFTID to an appropriate separation angle, Centaur spun up and launched the re-entry automobile. Spinning at three rotations per minute retains the LOFTID automobile steady and pointed in the correct all through re-entry.

At the moment, the aeroshell ought to have reached a full inflation strain of 19 psi. LOFTID is simply sending restricted real-time information in the course of the demonstration. Full information, together with affirmation of the ultimate inflation strain, will likely be confirmed after touchdown and restoration.

LOFTID is now coasting towards the ambiance and re-entry is predicted to begin in roughly 25 minutes.

Fully Inflated LOFTID Begins Re Entry

LOFTID is absolutely inflated because it begins it re-entry. Credit score: NASA TV

The crew was in a position to visually affirm full inflation of the re-entry automobile. LOFTID is now estimated to be at about 78 miles in altitude, the purpose the LOFTID crew considers the beginning of atmospheric re-entry.

Over the previous couple of minutes, LOFTID’s thermal safety system ought to have reached most re-entry heating, and the inflatable construction ought to have reached most re-entry strain load.

LOFTID is simply sending restricted real-time information in the course of the demonstration. Full information, together with the utmost heating and strain load skilled, will likely be confirmed after touchdown and restoration.

In line with the crew’s predictions, LOFTID ought to have slowed right down to Mach 0.7 — from a most velocity of Mach 29 — marking the tip of the demonstration and information assortment. As LOFTID approaches splashdown in roughly 16 minutes, the ejectable information module will jettison and the parachute will deploy.

Groups confirmed the ejectable information recorder was jettisoned they usually have obtained GPS information on its location. LOFTID’s parachutes are anticipated to have deployed, making ready LOFTID for splashdown in lower than 10 minutes.

LOFTID has splashed down within the Pacific Ocean tons of of miles off the coast of Hawaii. As soon as the aeroshell’s location is set, the restoration boat will head towards the aeroshell for tried retrieval. Following retrieval, the crew will recuperate the ejectable information recorder.

The LOFTID crew has visually confirmed the warmth protect’s splashdown within the Pacific Ocean. Splashdown occurred a couple of minutes later than initially thought based mostly on the anticipated mission timeline.

LOFTID landed near the restoration ship. After assessing the scenario, the crew aboard the Kahana-II have begun preparation for restoration operations, which can convey LOFTID aboard the vessel. NASA will submit updates on the restoration course of and the outcomes of the demonstration as extra data turns into obtainable.

Lifting LOFTID Heat Shield Out of Water

The LOFTID warmth protect is lifted out of the water onto the deck of the restoration vessel. Credit score: ULA

Group members efficiently retrieved the LOFTID warmth protect from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday morning. With the warmth protect on board, the restoration vessel will subsequent head to retrieve LOFTID’s ejectable information module, which accommodates a backup of the demonstration information that can be saved on the warmth protect.

LOFTID Heat Shield on Deck of Recovery Vessel

The LOFTID warmth protect sits on the deck of the restoration vessel. After the warmth protect was recovered, the crew retrieved the small backup information recorder from the water. Credit score: ULA

The LOFTID crew efficiently retrieved the mission’s ejectable information module from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday morning. The info module resembles a big lemon and holds a backup copy of the info recorded throughout LOFTID’s demonstration. One other copy of the info is saved aboard the warmth protect itself, which was already recovered by the crew.

The restoration vessel will now make its manner again to port. The LOFTID crew will analyze the recorded information and examine the warmth protect to evaluate how the expertise carried out. Further updates will likely be supplied as obtainable.


Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID)

Illustration of Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). Credit score: NASA

NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Check of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) is devoted to the reminiscence of Bernard Kutter – a supervisor of superior packages at United Launch Alliance (ULA) who championed lower-cost entry to house and applied sciences to make {that a} actuality. LOFTID is a partnership between NASA’s House Know-how Mission Directorate and ULA to exhibit an inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, or aeroshell, expertise that would someday assist land people on Mars.

Since NASA’s inception in 1958, the company has relied closely on inflexible aeroshells (a protecting shell composed of a warmth protect and a again shell), parachutes, and retro-propulsion (rockets) to decelerate folks, automobiles, and {hardware} throughout orbital entry, descent, and touchdown operations. The LOFTID demonstration is poised to revolutionize the way in which NASA and business ship payloads to planetary locations with atmospheres.

After greater than a decade of growth of Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) expertise, together with two suborbital flight assessments, the LOFTID orbital flight take a look at is the following step. This return from orbit demonstration supplies an entry surroundings related to many potential functions, paving the way in which for its use on future missions. The LOFTID re-entry automobile, at 19.7 toes (6 meters) diameter, would be the largest blunt physique aeroshell to ever undergo atmospheric entry.

When a spacecraft enters an environment, aerodynamic forces – like drag – act upon it, slowing it down and changing its kinetic power into warmth. Utilizing atmospheric drag sometimes is probably the most mass-efficient methodology to decelerate a spacecraft. Since HIAD expertise is bigger than conventional aeroshells, it creates extra drag and begins the deceleration course of within the higher reaches of the ambiance, permitting not solely heavier payloads, but in addition touchdown at greater altitudes. It might moreover be used to convey an unprecedented quantity of mass again from low-Earth orbit, together with gadgets from the Worldwide House Station. One other vital potential profit is enabling the restoration of rocket property for reuse which might scale back the general price of entry to house.

The HIAD design consists of an inflatable construction that maintains its form in opposition to the drag forces, and a protecting versatile thermal safety system that withstands the warmth of reentry. The inflatable construction is constructed with a stack of pressurized concentric rings, or tori, which might be strapped collectively to kind an exceptionally sturdy blunt cone-shaped construction.

The rings are constituted of braided artificial fibers which might be, by weight, 10 occasions stronger than metal. A versatile thermal safety system insulates the rings from the searing warmth of atmospheric entry; LOFTID can stand up to temperatures in extra of 2900°F (1600°C). It’s constructed with three layers: an exterior ceramic fiber fabric layer to take care of integrity of the floor, a center layer of insulators to inhibit warmth transmission, and an inside layer that forestalls sizzling fuel from reaching the inflatable construction. The versatile thermal safety system can be foldable, packable, deployable, and tailorable. As a result of it’s versatile, it takes up much less room within the rocket and permits the design to be scalable.

LOFTID is managed by the company’s Langley Analysis Middle in Hampton, Virginia, with contributions from numerous NASA facilities: Ames Analysis Middle in Silicon Valley, California; Marshall House Flight Middle in Huntsville, Alabama; and Armstrong Flight Analysis Middle in Edwards, California. NASA’s Launch Companies Program, based mostly on the company’s Kennedy House Middle in Florida, managed right this moment’s launch.



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