NASA completes demonstration of LOFTID technology designed to land humans on Mars

NASA has completed a technical demonstration of a low-Earth orbit flight test of the Inflatable Inflator (LOFTID) mission. “Inflatable pneumatic retarder” or “aviation shell” technology could one day help humans land on Mars.

LOFTID technology

According to NASA, it relies on rigid air-shell parachutes and rockets to slow down as people, vehicles and hardware enter the descent and land on a planet or other cosmic object with an atmosphere.

The space agency has spent more than a decade developing its Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Retarder (HIAD) technology. The LOFTID orbital flight test is the next step in the program. At 6 meters in diameter, the LOFTID reentry vehicle is the largest bluff body to ever enter the atmosphere, according to NASA.

NASA | Airtime | Hyde Image credit: NASA

Reentry using HIAD technology

When a spacecraft or anything else enters a planet’s atmosphere, drag acts on the object and slows it down, converting kinetic energy into heat. The large size of the HIAD device means that it generates more drag than conventional aviation shells and initiates the deceleration process in the atmosphere.

Not only would this allow for heavier payloads, but it would also allow landings from higher altitudes. Additionally, it can be used to bring back massive objects from Earth orbit, such as items from the International Space Station. NASA said the technology could also potentially be used to bring back rocket assets after launch.

HIAD design

The HIAD device will have an inflatable structure capable of maintaining its shape against resistance. It will also have a protective flexible thermal protection system that will protect it from heat generated during reentry. Its structure is made from a stack of pressurized concentric rings that are bundled together to form a tapered structure.

The rings are made of woven synthetic fibers that are 15 times stronger than steel, according to NASA. The entire system is foldable, packable and deployable, meaning it will take up less space on the rocket. This also makes its design scalable.

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