Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP7

RITD — Result In Brief

Project ID: 263255
Funded under: FP7-SPACE
Country: Finland

Inflatable technology for atmospheric re-entry

It may be hard to imagine that something that is inflated can survive the high heat and friction during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. But, a group of EU-backed researchers thought that an inflatable heat shield could be the solution to one of the many engineering challenges to bringing objects in space back down to Earth.
Inflatable technology for atmospheric re-entry
The entry, descent and landing system (EDLS) and the MetNet Lander were designed to ensure a safe landing on Mars. In place of rigid heat shields and parachutes that previous semi-hard landing systems have used, the developers proposed an inflatable envelope able to withstand the hypersonic flight during descent through the Martian atmosphere and an inflatable braking unit.

Within the EU-funded project RITD (Re-entry: Inflatable technology development in Russian collaboration), researchers from Europe and Russia sought to establish whether this new cutting-edge technology can be adapted to work on Earth for low-mass payloads. In particular, project partners analysed, through numerical simulations and wind tunnel testing, the stability of the system during different phases of the descent.

Initial assessments show that, although this re-entry system was developed for use on Mars, it can work well in the Earth's atmosphere too. In the more dense atmosphere of the Earth, the transonic phase is shorter and turbulence more violent. The addition of a pressurising device is therefore needed to protect the inflatable system against greater atmospheric pressure.

Inflatable technology offers significant advantages due to its low volume and mass. An in-depth analysis of current trends revealed a clear demand for this type of re-entry system. If flight tests continue to be satisfactory, one potential application other than planetary probes is the change of orbit for low Earth orbit satellites and even emergency evacuation of the International Space Station (ISS).

The RITD project has also helped to strengthen Euro-Russian collaboration in the space race.

Related information

Keywords

Inflatable technology, re-entry, heat shield, landing system, RITD, low Earth orbit
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