NASA engineers are developing a new thermal protection system for Orion, a spacecraft that will ferry humans into deep space. Heat protection is one of the most important aspects of manned missions as it has to be capable of bearing extreme heat during the journey from space and back to the Earth.
The new system comprises of Orion’s main heat shield, which helps in slowing down the ship as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, and the back shell also known as grid tiles. Orion spacecraft will go on its next mission Exploration Mission-1 (EM1) for about three weeks using NASA’s Space Launch System. The spacecraft will be able to travel faster to Earth under harsher conditions.
“Orion’s thermal protection system is one of the most critical parts of the spacecraft,” explains NASA.
John Kowal, NASA’s thermal protection system leader for Orion stated that as they build the system for EM-1, they have taken advantage of the things they have learned from Orion, improving the process. The outer metallic paint of the spaceship is also important as it will help to maintain a constant temperature. When in space, the metallic coating will help in keeping the interior warm and saving energy, which is otherwise spent on heating.
During re-entry, the spacecraft will experience a faster return from a lunar velocity of nearly 36,000 feet per second, and will maintain a temperature of 4,000 degree Fahrenheit. Last time, Orion reentered at 30,000 feet per second. Though there is a moderate difference, there will be a significant heat difference.
NASA engineers are also working to improve the manufacturing process, and reducing the mass of the spacecraft for future missions. Engineers have also found new ways to reduce the mass of the heat shield by using titanium and carbon fiber skin. The thickness of the structure has been optimized, based on the amount of pressure, making it light and resistant.
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