NASA Developing Hypersonic Inflatable Re-entry Technology

NASA PR — The Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project will focus on the development and demonstration of hypersonic inflatable aeroshell and technologies suitable for returning mass from the International Space Station.

The key technologies include flexible materials that will protect a spacecraft from the thermal environments experienced during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, along with a high-strength, lightweight, inflatable bladder capable of withstanding high temperatures.

The HIAD Project is developing a truly crosscutting technology for atmospheric entry. This technology enhances, and potentially enables, a variety of proposed NASA missions to destinations with atmospheres (Mars, Venus, Titan, the gas giants). This also holds true for returning payloads to Earth from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond, such as International Space Station down mass or sample return capsules. Not only is this technology applicable to robotic vehicles, the technology is envisioned to be scalable for crewed missions to Mars.

The HIAD Project is orchestrating a series of ground and flight tests to demonstrate the viability of thermal resilient materials manufactured in robust configurations to withstand the extreme structural and thermal environments experienced during atmospheric entry. Benefits of using the inflatable decelerator design includes mission flexibility provided by the minimal volume and mass requirements to transfer the stowed HIAD to its destination, as well as increased landed mass, accuracy, and altitude in a variety of space applications.

PROGRESS: In August 2009, this technology was successfully demonstrated with the flight of the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment II (IRVE-II), launched from Wallops Flight Facility (WFF). Another flight demonstration will be conducted in the June 2013 timeframe.