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NASA’s Space Technology Program has made a breakthrough development with their revolutionary inflatable heat shield. Just recently, NASA’s Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) completed a successful trip through the Earth’s atmosphere.
IRVE-3 reached hypersonic speeds of up to 7,600 mph during its historic trip through the atmosphere. The heat shield is made up of a custom inflatable outer shell that helps it slow down from its high speeds and offers protection upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The deputy director of NASA’s Space Technology Program James Reuther said;
“It’s great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator. This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space.”
The IRVE-3 also consists of a cone which is made up of a series of un-inflated high tech rings of braided Kevlar lined with silicon. A thermal blanket of layers of heat resistant materials is used to cover the rings. The IRVE-3 also uses materials such as Nextel, Pyrogel, and Kapton to create a revolutionary thermal protection system that is similar to a fireman’s suit. The only difference is the thermal protection system that the IRVE-3 uses can withstand temperatures up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA hopes that the inflatable technology will help them explore planets like Mars, Venus, and Titan. They also hope that they can use the inflatable heat shield to eventually transport humans. The IRVE-3 project will help NASA take another giant leap in space travel.