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HIAD Heat Shield Material Feels the Burn During Arc Jet Testing

Small cutouts of the Flexible Thermal Protection System for NASA's Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, were exposed to temperatures up to approximately 2,700 F during testing at Boeing's Large Core Arc Tunnel in St. Louis, Missouri.

Small cutouts of the Flexible Thermal Protection System for NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, were exposed to temperatures up to approximately 2,700 F during testing at Boeing’s Large Core Arc Tunnel in St. Louis, Missouri.
Credits: NASA

NASA heat shield material that could one day be used on an inflatable aeroshell during atmospheric entry on Mars recently underwent testing at Boeing’s Large Core Arc Tunnel in St. Louis, Missouri.

The inflatable aeroshell, using high temperature advanced flexible material systems, will enable atmospheric entry to planetary bodies and the landing of heavy payloads. The Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project is focused on development of the inflatable aeroshell technology and manufacturing capability at large scale, to support an orbital atmospheric entry flight experiment at Earth and Mars. HIAD overcomes size and weight limitations of current rigid systems by utilizing inflatable soft-goods materials that can be packed into a small volume and deployed to form a large aeroshell before atmospheric entry.

Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

Members of NASA Langley’s HIAD team are seen here with models of the inflatable aeroshell, which will enable atmospheric entry to planetary bodies and the landing of heavy payloads.
Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

Critical to the development of the technology is development of flexible material systems whose performance must be verified through arc jet testing. During early August testing, small cutouts of the Flexible Thermal Protection System (F-TPS), about 2.5 inches in diameter and anywhere from a half-inch to 1 inch thick, were placed in a supersonic wind tunnel and blasted with jets of superheated plasma gas. The plasma gas hit the cutouts at speeds of Mach 4 or more, and heated the surfaces to temperatures up to approximately 2,700 F. Thermocouples embedded in the samples measured the material’s response to the superheated conditions.

Researchers calibrated tunnel pressure and temperature to be similar to the range of conditions HIADs would face during atmospheric entry on Earth and Mars. The data from these tests will be used to validate mathematical models used for design.

The test team included researchers Steven Tobin, Matt Wells and Andrew Brune of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Grant Rossman, a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

HIAD technology is being developed by researchers at Langley through NASA’s Game Changing Development program, which is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program advances space technologies that may lead to entirely new approaches to space missions.

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Child’s Toy Design Could Help Humans Get to Mars


Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child’s toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, engineers have been working to develop an inflatable heat shield that looks a lot like a super-sized version of a stacking ring of doughnuts that infants play with. The engineers believe a lightweight, inflatable heat shield could be deployed to slow the craft to enter a Martian atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

Such an inflatable heat shield could help a spacecraft reach the high-altitude southern plains of Mars and other areas that would otherwise be inaccessible under existing technology. The experts note that rockets alone can’t be used to land a large craft on Mars as can be done on the atmosphereless moon. Parachutes also won’t work for a large spacecraft needed to send humans to Mars, they add.

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*Source: ABC News

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First LDSD Test Flight a Success

Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hours after the June 28, 2014, test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator over the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range, the saucer-shaped test vehicle is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vessel. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA representatives participated in a media teleconference this morning to discuss the June 28, 2014 near-space test flight of the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which occurred off the coast of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A high-altitude balloon launch occurred at 8:45 a.m. HST (11:45 a.m. PDT/2:45 p.m. EDT) from the Hawaiian island facility. At 11:05 a.m. HST (2:05 p.m. PDT/5:05 p.m. EDT), the LDSD test vehicle dropped away from the balloon as planned and began powered flight. The balloon and test vehicle were about 120,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean at the time of the drop. The vehicle splashed down in the ocean at approximately 11:35 a.m. HST (2:35 p.m. PDT/5:35 p.m. EDT), after the engineering test flight concluded. The test vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.

“We are thrilled about yesterday’s test,” said Mark Adler, project manager for LDSD at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The test vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives. We have recovered all the vehicle hardware and data recorders and will be able to apply all of the lessons learned from this information to our future flights.”

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VIP Day Builds Bridges To NASA Langley


When Karen Jackson, Virginia’s deputy secretary of technology, visits NASA’s Langley Research Center, there is always a sense of familiarity. Her mom worked at the center for 32 years and Jackson spent much of her childhood in and around Langley.

“It’s very exciting to come back in my new role, to help transfer technology to industry and universities and to develop partnerships,” Jackson said at NASA Langley’s 95th Anniversary VIP Day on Thursday. “I want to help build bridges to make NASA more accessible, and make them a partner for what we are trying to do in the Commonwealth.”

Jackson, who also serves on the Governor’s MODSIM Panel, was excited to take a first glimpse at some of the technology that NASA has to offer.

Like minds, such as Michele DeWitt, economic development director for Williamsburg, and James Noel, Jr., economic development director for York County, were also looking forward to building some bridges.

“It’s all about trying to see the technology commercialize, and then to take that technology to businesses as a potential asset,” Noel said.

Both DeWitt and Noel spoke of the importance of NASA Incubator Programs, which are designed to nurture new and emerging businesses with the potential to incorporate technology developed by NASA.

“It’s about taking the technology that is happening here, transferring it, and expanding it throughout the region,” DeWitt said.

More than 100 guests including representatives from local, regional, state and federal government, industry representatives, and colleagues from other NASA centers, broke into three separate tour groups and visited facilities that would be of most interest to them.

“Fifty percent of the work comes in the door, and fifty percent of the work goes back out the door,” said Stewart Harris, Director of Engineering, as groups arrived to Langley’s Advanced Manufacturing facility.

In one area of the facility, Tom Burns held up a test rig and explained that the manufacturing process, called Selective Laser Melting (SLM) Sinterstation, provided the rig a strength of 16,000 pounds per square inch. In another area, Mike Powers talked about the glass bead heat ablasion technique, which was created at NASA Langley about a year ago. It has been used on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, HIAD (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator) and the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

Bill Seufzer shared a story about a request he received from an aerospace company to build a titanium part. Rather than starting with the 400-pound build of titanium that they provided him, he used NASA Langley’s Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) technology to build up the part from a plate. He built the piece using 23 pounds of material, which saved 233 pounds of material and costs. And instead of the process taking 18 months, it only took him one day, he explained.

Tim Osowski, a scientist from Orbital Sciences Corp. who is already working with the center through a Space Act Agreement to develop the concept for a High Energy Atmospheric Reentry Test (HEART), which falls under the broader HIAD project at Langley, remained tuned in for new opportunities.

As guests toured the 14 x 22 Subsonic Tunnel they learned about testing capabilities and specialized test techniques. Langley’s wind tunnels have conducted projects for NASA, industry, the Department of Defense and academic partners within the research and development communities.

From Langley’s Science Directorate tours, guests learned about SAGE III and Applied Sciences such as air quality, renewable energy and aviation weather. Others who had a particular interest in the sciences, like representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), learned about the CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Reractivity Observatory) Calibration Demonstration System (CDS), CAPABLE (Chemistry and Physics Atmospheric Boundary Layer Experiment) and the Atmospheric Science Data Center.

For all, the day ended with a splash as the Orion test capsule was dropped into the water basin at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. The test impact conditions simulated all parachutes being deployed with high impact pitch angle of 43 degrees, no roll, with 27.8 miles per hour vertical and 38.8 miles per hour horizontal velocities.

“The test was a high velocity case at the maximum design impact angle representing worse case conditions for an abort scenario in rough seas,” Robin Hardy, an aerospace engineer, explained to the group.

As VIP guests stood at a safe distance from the basin, they were reminded that bridges could be built from both sides.

“Langley has a long history of working with a diverse network of partners from start-up firms to academia, to large corporations and other government agencies,” said Center Director Lesa Roe. “We believe that our future depends on these collaborative solutions, and today is an opportunity for all of us to explore challenges and how we might work together to solve them.”

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New NASA Space Technology App Educates Users at Hypersonic Speeds


WASHINGTON — Want to try your hand at landing an inflatable spacecraft? All you need is a smart phone, a computer or a tablet.
NASA has released a new educational computer Web game based on its Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project. The game can be played on the Internet and Apple and Android mobile devices.

The application can be downloaded free from those mobile device stores and on NASA’s HIAD website at:

HIAD is an innovative inflatable spacecraft technology NASA is developing to allow giant cones of inner tubes stacked together to transport cargo to other planets or bring cargo back from the International Space Station.

“This game will help introduce new generations to NASA technologies that may change the way we explore other worlds,” said Mary Beth Wusk, HIAD project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “It gives players an idea of some of the engineering challenges rocket scientists face in designing spacecraft, and does it in a fun way.”

The game’s premise is an inflatable heat shield that returns cargo from the space station to Earth. As the HIAD summary puts it, “to successfully guide an inflatable spacecraft through the super heat of atmospheric reentry requires the right stuff. If you inflate too early, your shape is incorrect or your material isn’t strong enough – you burn up. And if you get all that right and miss the target the mission is a bust.”

The game offers four levels of engineering mastery and gives stars for each successful landing.

HIAD is more than just a game. It’s a real technology being tested in laboratories and in flight. A prototype HIAD launched July 23 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The successful flight test demonstrated that lightweight, yet strong inflatable structures may become a practical way to help us explore other worlds.

NASA is developing the technology as part of the Space Technology Program’s Game Changing Development Program. NASA’s Space Technology Program is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future science and exploration missions. NASA’s technology investments provide cutting-edge solutions for our nation’s future.

For more information about other NASA programs and projects, visit:

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Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment-3 (IRVE-3) Launch

IRVE-3 Launch

On July 23, 2012,  the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment-3 (IRVE-3) successfully launched the HIAD system from a sounding rocket at 7:01 a.m. from the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.The launch was the third in a series of suborbital flight tests to provide foundational data for NASA’s efforts to develop and integrate HIAD technology into future missions. Technicians vacuum packed the uninflated, three meter diameter cone of high-tech inner tubes into a 0.5 meter diameter, three-stage Black Brant XI sounding rocket.

During the flight test, an on-board inflation system (similar to air tanks used by scuba divers) pumped the inner tubes full of nitrogen, stretching a thermal blanket over them to create a heat shield or aeroshell. That heat shield protected a payload that consisted of four segments including the inflation system, steering mechanisms, telemetry equipment and camera gear.

The rocket took about six minutes to climb approximately 450km (280 miles) into the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. The 308 kg/680 pound IRVE-3 separated from the rocket,  traveled at Mach 10, experienced peak loads of about 20 g’s and heating of 15 W/cm2, with its heat shield temperature reaching up to 400°C (750°F) as it returned to Earth.

Four video cameras transmitted images to the Wallops control room to confirm that the IRVE-3 successfully inflated, reconfigured to generate lift prior to atmospheric entry, and demonstrated re-entry steering capability. The inflated heat shield and payload plummeted back through Earth’s atmosphere, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 minutes after launch and 560 kilometers (350 miles) down range from Wallops.

Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. have spent the last three years preparing for the test of this Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator.  Researchers and technicians studied designs, assessed materials in laboratories and wind tunnels and subjected hardware to thermal and pressure loads beyond what it should face in flight.

NASA began researchinginflatable spacecraft because rigid spacecraft structures are limited by the size of the launch vehicle shroud.  This, in turn, limits the size of the payload that can be carried through planetary atmospheres. NASA is investigating HIAD technology as a potential enabler for delivering larger mass on future missions, or accessing higher elevations on Mars. IRVE-3 is one of the Space Technology Program’s many research efforts to develop new technologies to advance space travel and open up new capacity for exploration within both scientific and human missions.

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Congressional visit to GCD

Congressional Tour GCD

congressional-tour2Game Changing Development Program Director Steve Gaddis and IRVE-3 Project Manager Mary Beth Wusk welcomed 28 congressional staffers from Washington D.C., on Thursday, Aug. 23. Wusk gave an overview of the recent success of the Inflatable Re-Entry Vehicle Experiment 3 (IRVE-3) that launched from NASA’s Wallops Space Flight Facility in July. The IRVE-3 heat shield technology could change the way we explore other worlds by accommodating larger payloads allowing for delivery of more science instruments and tools for exploration.Congressional Visit GCD






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IRVE-3 Success – Wallops Flight Facility, Saturday, July 21, 2012

Here are several articles/pictures of the launch:




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Excellent Student Support for the Girl Scout Day at Busch Gardens

Girl Scout Support

Engineer Amanda Cutright, who works on the HIAD project, poses with a Girl Scout during Girl Scout Engineering Day recently at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Engineer Amanda Cutright, who works on the HIAD project, poses with a Girl Scout during Girl Scout Engineering Day recently at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

This year, NASA Langley Research Center partnered with Busch Gardens to promote engineering and STEM sciences to Girl Scouts in the Tidewater area. Booths were laid out displaying current projects being worked on by NASA. All of the booths had displays with 3D models of airplanes, plastic printers, giant posters, and even goop. The picture above was taken in the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) booth. From left to right are: Mary Beth Wusk, Amanda Cutright, Katie Campbell, Tianna Stefano, Mallory Middleton, Betsy Wusk, Grace Wusk, and Becky Jaramillo. We had a team five engineering interns and three mentors who aided in face painting HIAD’s on Girl Scout’s faces, explaining how to use the HIAD app that is available for Androids and on the NASA HIAD website, and educating these girls about the HIAD mission and the fun we’ve had working on this project. As one of the interns I was very thankful to have had the opportunity to tell over 1000 Girl Scouts how amazing it is to be an engineer. –Katherine Campbell,  LARSS Student, 3rd year at University of Virginia












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Neil Cheatwood, Mary Beth Wusk of the GCD-PO discuss space technology to Aerospace Advisory Council


Aerospace Advisory Council Visits NASA Langley
By: Brian Marcolini, LARSS intern

The future of aerospace and aviation hinges on two things, political support and funding. The governor’s Aerospace Advisory Council can provide both, and on Tuesday NASA’s Langley Research Center hosted the council’s quarterly meeting at the center.

Developed in 2007 after NASA advocacy, the 19-member council acts as the voice of the entire aerospace industry in Virginia. The group is composed of state politicians, aerospace industry representatives and university representatives working together for project funding and job creation.

Their primary goal is to make Virginia one of the top supporters of the aerospace industry in the country.

Tuesday was the council’s first visit to Langley and included a tour of center facilities along with its meeting. The main topics covered developments happening both at Langley and NASA Wallops, as well as goings-on in the world of aviation and aerospace.

Deputy Center Director Steve Jurczyk gave a rundown of Langley’s operations, noting the great strides made in research around the center. He also detailed the center’s revitalization project, portraying Langley’s precise 20-year plan for the future.

“The plan is completely comprehensive, covering every square foot of every building on the center,” Jurczyk said during his presentation.

Even more important than the topics covered in the meeting was the council’s tour.

“(Having the meeting at Langley) is great for the center,” Jurczyk said, “And the tour helps them finally see what they’ve been talking about in meetings for months.”

The group first traveled to the Langley hangar, where they were met by employees and Langley’s Aeronautics Academy students. There, the focus was the future of aviation, which included a presentation by the students and an overview of the In-Trail Procedures (ITP) project. The ITP research intends to reduce the separation needed between planes flying in oceanic airspace.

The highlight of the stop was a tour of the hangar floor where the group was met with exhibits illustrating the future of unmanned aerial vehicles and overviews of the students’ projects.

State Sen. Mark Herring of Fairfax and Louden Counties came away from the hangar particularly impressed.

“It is exciting to see research being done at NASA Langley today that will change the face of tomorrow,” Herring said after touring the facility.

Science Directorate team leaders Neil Cheatwood and Mary Beth Wusk then met the council in building 1250, giving them an overview of the future of space technologies produced at Langley.

Their main presentation was on the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3). Developed by Wusk and her team, IRVE-3 is an effort to prove the viability of inflatable technology to survive atmospheric entry. The inflatable spacecraft technology is scheduled to launch from Wallops later this summer.

The council also saw the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III). SAGE III is the third in a line of instruments that monitors the Earth’s atmosphere, and is scheduled to travel to the International Space Station later this year.

The council was then briefed on the status of the commercial space flight industry and its importance to both the national and state economy at the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel. After the briefing, they received a tour of the tunnel to conclude the tour.

“I’m so glad that the members of the council not from the area finally get to see NASA Langley,” state Del. John Cosgrove said in the meeting’s closing remarks. “It’s the coolest place and we want to do everything we can to support it.”





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