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IRVE-3  (Source: robotikka.com)
IRVE-3 embarked on a 20-minute test flight, where it was launched by a three-stage Black Brant rocket at 7:01 a.m. on Monday

NASA recently had a successful test flight for its Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) heat shield. 
 
IRVE-3 is a 680-pound cone-shaped, inflatable heat shield that is covered with heat-resistant materials. The idea behind IRVE-3 is to protect space capsules as they enter or return an atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. It is the successor to IRVE-2, which was an inflatable heat shield of the same size, but carried a lighter payload and was subjected to lower re-entry heat than IRVE-3. 
 
IRVE-3 embarked on a 20-minute test flight, where it was launched by a three-stage Black Brant rocket at 7:01 a.m. on Monday. It took off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. 
 
Six minutes into the flight, the heat shield and its large payload detached from the rocket's nose cone (kind of like a mushroom) over 200 miles above the Atlantic Ocean. Nitrogen was pumped into the IRVE-3 using an inflation system. This caused IRVE-3 to inflate about 10-feet in diameter. 
 
From there, the heat shield dropped through Earth's atmosphere and managed to hold its shape through the heat and force of re-entry. NASA researchers were able to collect information like pressure and temperature data via tools onboard, which will help with future improvements of the heat shields. 
 
IRVE-3 ended its flight by splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean near North Carolina. It will be retrieved by a U.S. Navy Stiletto boat. 
 
"It's great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator," said James Reuther, deputy director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space."

Source: NASA



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Incredibly useful
By geddarkstorm on 7/24/2012 9:13:57 PM , Rating: 3
Not only would an inflatable shield cut down significantly on weight (always a concern for space flight), but allows for enough slowing potential for us to land much larger cargos on places like Mars (for which this shield concept was initially designed for due to its thin atmosphere). And those who remember the 2010: Odyssey Two movie, an inflatable shield could be deployed and retracted for aerobraking maneuvers, allowing the ability to change orbits without having to spend as much fuel.

So cool seeing how much a success this test was. A lot of options and doors these system can open for us in regards to our interplanetary explorations.




RE: Incredibly useful
By Samus on 7/25/2012 12:31:21 AM , Rating: 2
Quite an improvement over ceramic tiles...just amazing how strong these composite materials are.


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