Apr. 24, 2000 An experiment that could lead to a breakthrough in the design of space vehicles successfully completed its final design review in February and is planned for flight demonstration in June. The flight experiment will test ultra-high temperature ceramic material that could radically improve thermal protection of spacecraft through the extreme heat of reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The Slender Hypervelocity Aerothermodynamic Research Probe – or SHARP B2 – is one of the Future-X flight experiments selected by NASA to help mold the future of space transportation. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Future-X Program. The SHARP B2 experiment is led by NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
Ultra-high temperature ceramic material could make it possible for space vehicles to have sharp leading edges, instead of the blunt body design common to today’s spacecraft. Engineers routinely design spacecraft with blunt leading edges that create a region of compressed air in front of the vehicle as it travels faster than the speed of sound. This region absorbs much of the heat associated with a spacecraft’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and keeps the vehicle’s edges from overheating. Blunt body vehicles, however, are inefficient and have high drag, or friction, as they fly – resulting in large, expensive propulsion systems. The ceramic material the Ames Center will test in flight could substantially lower the cost of boosting objects to space. A modified Mk12A reentry vehicle – basically an aerodynamic nose cone – with four sharp leading edges will be lofted into space aboard a U.S. Air Force Minuteman III launch vehicle and will make a high-speed reentry into the atmosphere to test the ceramic material. Following reentry, the vehicle will deploy a drag chute and be recovered from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The launch is scheduled June 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Note to Editors: The Advanced Space Transportation Media Update is a regular progress report to keep you informed about technology development activity at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. As NASA’s Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development, Marshall is pushing technologies that will dramatically increase the safety and reliability and reduce the cost of space transportation. Interviews and materials supporting this Media Update are available to media representatives by contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall’s News Center on the Web at: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news For more information on Marshall’s space transportation activities, visit: http://www.highway2space.com
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