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NASA launches inflatable flying saucer to land at ocean near Hawai

On Thursday, the LOFTID team didn’t have much to do during the countdown to launch on an Atlas V rocket at 1:49 AM PT.

To avoid potential problems with the main mission of deploying weather satellites, the LOFTID system was activated only one hour after the satellite was launched. NASA later reported that there may be a problem with the solar panels of the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 satellite.

Which is designed to measure energy emitted by planets through the atmosphere to improve weather forecasting. However, LOFTID was easy to use.

NASA launches inflatable flying saucer to land at ocean near Hawai

With the LOFTID still attached, the rocket’s second stage fired the engine briefly twice to orient the LOFTID properly so it could re-enter the atmosphere.

Over the next few minutes, compressed nitrogen gas inflated LOFTID’s heat sink. A series of nested donut tubes shaped like mushrooms or parasols protrude from the top of the rocket stage.

To provide LOFTID’s stability, the rocket stage spun like a gyroscope at 3 revolutions per minute before leaving the test vehicle for passage through the atmosphere.

Hours after launch, the LOFTID device was hovering in the Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles from Hawaii. Rough infrared video captured by Salvage showed LOFTID descending from the parachute and then falling into the water.

“Everyone was relaxed and excited,” Greg Swanson, LOFTID’s head of metrology, said on the NASA broadcast. He was going to pull the rescue boat out of the water.

The idea of ​​inflatable heat shields dates back half a century. However, the necessary strength and heat resistant materials did not exist.

Dr. Cheatwood said that 20 years ago, LOFTID chief engineer Steve Hughes read some documents detailing Russia’s inflatable heat shield efforts.

“I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “Between the two of us, we were the kind of people who held it together.”

Three trials were conducted 10 years ago. This 10-foot-wide inflatable shield was launched from a sub-orbital rocket that essentially went straight up and then fell.

NASA launches inflatable flying saucer to land at ocean near Hawai

The LOFTID test doubled the diameter and produced much faster re-entry and more heat as the vehicle reached the track.

Success means the technology is now ready for mission deployment, said Dr. Chitwood said.

In addition to Mars, inflatable thermal shields could help land on other worlds with atmospheres like Venus and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

About a dozen companies have expressed interest in this technology, said Dr. Cheatwood near the house. “And it’s not like I go out and sell it,” he said. “These are the people who contact me.”

One of them is United Launch Alliance, which built the Atlas V rocket that launched LOFTID.

As SpaceX boosts routine landings of the Falcon 9 rocket’s booster stage, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is exploring the possibility of reusing parts in the next-generation Vulcan rocket. Year Paris. Unlike SpaceX, the company does not aim to land the entire first stage.

Instead, the rear compartment of the Vulcan booster, which contains the most expensive part, the engine, is discarded and released back to Earth, first lowered by an inflatable heatsink and a parachute. The helicopter then intercepts the descending nacelle and guides it to the ship. (Another rocket company, Rocket Lab, is taking a similar approach to acquiring parts for air rockets.)

A small startup called Outpost Space wants to create a new space company that can use inflatable heat shield technology.

In recent years, several new rocket companies have driven down the cost of putting satellites into orbit. But it’s about sending anything back to Earth, whether it’s a drug sample or a new material made near us.

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