Inflatable heat shield in test chamber.
On Monday, NASA successfully tested a new design in heat shield technology. Launched from Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia, the IRVE-3 (Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment-3) sounding rocket took off and reached 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean. The payload then separated and the HIAD (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator) was inflated with nitrogen gas.
IRVE-3 launches from Wallops Island, VA.
Screaming back through the Earth's atmosphere at 7,600 mph, the shield inflated to 10 feet in diameter and approached temperatures expected during a typical reentry from space. Parachuting into the ocean, the package was recovered and scientists began studying the data retrieved. The entire flight lasted only about 20 minutes. The science learned from these tests will help NASA make newer, better, and safer reentry shields for future space missions.
Orion parachutes deploying.
In a completely separate test, NASA engineers in Arizona completed another successful test of the parachute recovery system that will be used with the Orion space capsule. An Air Force C-17 cargo plane dropped the capsule from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the desert. This Orion was a capsule mockup, designed to have the shape and size of the eventual capsule and filled with special sensors to monitor everything related to the deceleration and impact landing. The recovery system will be used in an actual test mission from space in 2014.