NASA is developing a shield that could help humans get to Mars

Landing on Mars is not easy, especially if the vehicle is a rocket. Indeed, the gravity on the red planet is much denser than that on Earth. It is such a complicated challenge that, of the 40 missions sent by NASA, less than half succeed. Low (and scary) number for anyone ever considering taking people there. Everything indicates, however, that space scientists have figured out how to perform the maneuver more successfully.

For you to better understand the difference between landing on Earth and on Mars, the Digital appearance explains: on its return to Earth, the plane receives here a “help” from the atmosphere, because it is relatively thick and slows down. On Mars, on the other hand, the atmosphere is thinner and the air, on the contrary, denser. For example, Martian air is as thick as Earth’s air at 30,000 meters, more than three times the size of Mount Everest.

“I call it the anti-Goldilocks atmosphere,” said NASA associate administrator Jim Reuter. “It’s thick enough to cause trouble and not thin enough to help you,” he added.

March. Image: Nazarii_Neshcherenskyi –

And what would be the probable solution discovered by the scientists?

In an attempt to circumvent this massive physics hurdle, NASA engineers have developed an inflatable heat shield that could hold the key to victory. Called the Inflatable Hypersonic Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, the hardware could help the Agency land astronauts and massive payloads on the Red Planet in the late 2030s.

Earlier this week, scientists and engineers from the space agency’s Langley Research Center in Virginia gathered to view the inflated heat shield for the last time on Earth. The technology will enter orbit in November this year, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. It’s the first test of the technology that can send humans to Mars.

The mission, known as Bernard Kutter’s Low Earth Orbit Inflatable Decelerator Flight Test – or simply LOFTID – will take the experiment on a journey around the Earth via a weather satellite, passing through the North Poles and South. The HIAD will remain in place until the satellite is delivered, then inflate when the spacecraft returns to Earth.

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Demonstration of the inflatable heat shield which will be launched in November. Image: NASA

Ground demonstration and technological composition

On Wednesday (15), the heat shield wrapped in metallic gray was tested by the NASA team. Shaped like a giant mushroom cap, the hardware transformed into a cavernous laboratory. The HIAD was 6 meters wide, with an extended walkway overhead for scientists and engineers to cross.

The system consists of a stack of inner tube-shaped rings connected together. NASA claims that the synthetic material used in the equipment is 15 times stronger than steel and is able to withstand temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Celsius. The idea is to deploy it as high as possible in Mars’ atmosphere, expanding NASA’s landing options in the Red Planet’s southern highlands.

NASA is developing a shield that could help humans
NASA researchers at Langley demonstrate the inflation of a heat shield for the last time on Earth. Image: Elisha Sauers/Mashable

For scientists, this solution is more realistic than “packs of parachutes the size of a football field” or “tens of tons of additional rocket fuel”.

“With conventional technology, you can land around 1.5 tonnes. It’s the equivalent of a well-equipped golf cart,” NASA’s Del Corso told Mashable. “With 20 to 40 tons, we are talking about a farmhouse, all furnished with a car in the garage. That’s what you must have.

The US$93 million mission is a NASA partnership with United Launch Alliance, which will provide post-launch visitation and equipment recovery. If all goes well, the heat shield will reduce the speed of the LOFTID rocket from more than 25 times the speed of sound to less than 910 km/h.

“It’s a giant leap forward in aeroshell technology,” said Barb Egan, director of the company’s civilian space program, “to be able to bring our engines back quickly, easily, safely, and reuse that technology instead of throwing it away.” “. .

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