Thermal Protection Systems Materials

Seam Performance

Image of a model under testing of seam performance at 400 W/cm2. Objectives of this particular test were reported as met for several reasons, one of which is that 5 tested seam designs evaluated demonstrated no gap widening during the test. Image credit: NASA

The Thermal Protection Systems Materials (TPS-M) project seeks to develop, evaluate, test and transfer cutting edge materials that meet the thermal requirements for deep space missions. The extreme heating produced during atmospheric entry is such that without adequate protective materials and structures, valuable spacecraft and instruments would be destroyed. Materials such as woven thermal protection and conformal ablative thermal protection have been tested and proven to be advanced technologies compared with previously used materials, such as heritage carbon phenolic. TPS-M is testing a variety of thermal protection systems and components options under conditions likened to that the materials would be exposed to in space.

The Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology, or HEEET, uses a dual-layer approach that allows greater mass efficiency by limiting the thickness of the high-density outer layer and reducing heat shield mass as much as 40 percent. Conformal Ablative TPS plans to install in 2016 large scale panels for the Pathfinder Demonstration Unit on a surrogate structure to demonstrate application and joining of materials. Other activities include arc jet testing to characterize 3D Woven TPS, arc jet exposure of ablative and non-oxide ceramic matrix composite TPS for planetary probe and sample return applications, and validation of fiber optic temperature sensor arrays for TPS materials.

Michelle Munk ( Ethiraj Venkatapathy (

First 3D woven composite for NASA thermal protection systems

Orion NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle has been designed to transport a crew of six to and from deep space, including an asteroid (≈2025) and Mars (≈2030). It comprises two modules: the Crew Module (or Command Module, CM), built by Lockheed Martin (see Sara Black’s article on its composite heat shield) and the Service Module […]