A heat shield rides into space that could land humans on Mars

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An experimental heat shield was tagged when a polar satellite designed to improve weather forecasting was launched early Thursday. It could land humans on Mars.

The two separate missions were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in Lombok, California.

Both missions were originally set to launch on November 1, but were delayed due to battery failure in the rocket’s upper stage. Engineers replaced the battery and retested to set the stage for the new launch date.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have been launching weather satellites since the 1960s. The Joint Polar Satellite System-2, or JPSS-2, is the third satellite in NOAA’s latest generation of polar-orbiting environmental satellites.

The orbiter will collect data to help scientists predict and prepare for extreme weather events such as hurricanes, blizzards and floods.

The satellite can monitor forest fires and volcanoes, measure the ocean and atmosphere, and detect dust and smoke in the air. It will also monitor ozone and atmospheric temperature, providing additional insight into the climate crisis.

Once it orbits the planet from the North Pole to the South Pole, the satellite will be renamed NOAA-21. According to NOAA, the satellite will monitor every location on Earth at least twice a day. When you check the weather on your phone, it is fed with data captured by satellite.

JPSS-2 joins two other satellites, the Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership and NOAA-20, which comprise the Joint Polar Satellite System.

“JPSS provides more than twice-daily observations over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, helping to monitor weather systems where there is no benefit of weather balloons and only limited buoys compared to the dense network of weather stations on land,” said Jordan Gerth. , meteorologist and satellite scientist at NOAA’s National Weather Service before the launch.

A secondary payload riding the rocket is NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Flight Test’s Inflatable Accelerator Technology Demonstration, or LOFTID.

The mission is designed to test the inflatable heat shield technology needed to land crewed missions to Mars and larger robotic missions to Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan. LOFTID can also be used when returning heavy payloads to Earth.

Sending robotic explorers or humans to other worlds with atmospheres may be challenging because the aeroshells or heat shields currently in use depend on the size of the rocket’s shielding.

But an inflatable aeroshell can get around that bias — and send heavier missions to different planets.

When a spacecraft enters a planet’s atmosphere, it is hit by aerodynamic forces, which help slow it down.

On Mars, where the atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s, extra help is needed to create the necessary thrust to land a spacecraft slowly and safely.

That’s why NASA engineers think a large deployable aeroshell like the LOFTID, flexible and protected by a flexible thermal shield, could put the brakes on as it travels down through the Martian atmosphere.

The aeroshell is designed to create more drag in the upper atmosphere, which helps the spacecraft decelerate quickly, while also preventing some extreme heat. The LOFTID demonstration is about 20 feet (6 meters) across.

The underside of the inflated aeroshell can be seen during testing.

After approximately 90 minutes, LOFTID peeled away from the polar satellite and lifted off.

Then, the aeroshell separated from the upper stage and re-entered the atmosphere from low Earth orbit, so the researchers could assess whether the heat shield was effective in slowing it down and allowing it to survive.

Sensors aboard the LOFTID were set to record the heat shield’s experience during its terrifying descent. Six cameras will capture 360-degree video of LOFTID’s experiment, said Joe Del Corso, LOFTID project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center. in Hampton, Virginia, prior to launch.

Upon re-entry, LOFTID encountered temperatures reaching 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and hit speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour – A final test for the materials used to create the blown structure is a woven ceramic fabric called silicon carbide.

Officers in LOFTID’s heat shield and backup data recorder splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, NASA said.Hundreds of miles off the coast of Hawaii, a group of boats stopped there to retrieve supplies.

Currently, NASA can land 1 metric ton (2,205 pounds) on the surface of Mars. The car-sized Perseverance Rover. But something like LOFTID could land on Mars with 20 to 40 metric tons (44,092 to 88,184 pounds), Del Corso said.

The results of the Jupiter demonstration could determine the entry, landing and landing technology that would one day provide human crews on the surface of Mars.

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