For most of us it’s hard to imagine that something that is inflated can survive the high heat and friction of space travel, especially atmospheric entry.
But a group of NASA engineers, primarily based at NASA’s Langley Research Center, have been working to develop inflatable spacecraft aeroshell technology for more than a decade.
“We have been eating, sleeping, dreaming this technology — in my case for six years,” said Anthony Calomino during a peer review of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator project. The project, which was part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development Program, is wrapping up after three years.Some of the research and team are transitioning to the Terrestrial HIAD — Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator – Orbital Reentry, or THOR, flight test. That test is a Technology Demonstration Mission and also part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Before HIAD moved forward the team wanted an outside assessment of its potential. “We [who have worked on HIAD] have a certain familiarity with it,” said Calomino. We wanted to have an independent group — a fresh set of eyes — looking at this technology.”