3D Animations Provide New Insights into Thermal Protection Materials

French-fry forest: Frame from an animation of carbon fiber felt material, generated from microtomography scans and custom ray-tracing software. The image illuminates details in the intricate fiber structures that have never been seen before. The flexible felt (made up of 10% carbon fibers and 90% air) is just one of many materials being analyzed for stronger and safer materials to protect future spacecraft. Image/video credit: Tim Sandstrom, NASA Ames

French-fry forest: Frame from an animation of carbon fiber felt material, generated from microtomography scans and custom ray-tracing software. The image illuminates details in the intricate fiber structures that have never been seen before. The flexible felt (made up of 10% carbon fibers and 90% air) is just one of many materials being analyzed for stronger and safer materials to protect future spacecraft. Image/video credit: Tim Sandstrom, NASA Ames

NASA space exploration vehicles blazing through the atmosphere to return to Earth—or touch down on other planets—are shielded by specially designed and developed thermal protection materials that can withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees F.

Researchers at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility are exploring 3D images and animations of newly developed thermal protection system (TPS) materials being developed in support of future missions. For the first time, 3D complex structures in the TPS fibers are being revealed at the microscale—one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. Scientists Francesco Panerai, NASA visiting scientist from the University of Kentucky, and Nagi N. Mansour, chief of the NAS Division’s Fundamental Modeling & Simulation Branch, are collaborating with the Hypersonic Entry, Descent, and Landing team at NASA’s Ames Research Center to model, understand, and predict the durability and strength of new materials that will protect future spacecraft heading beyond low Earth orbit to Mars and other space exploration destinations. The work supports NASA’s Space Technology Game-Changing Development Program.

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*Source: NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division

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