A student from the University of Manchester has developed a prototype of a flexible heat shield for spacecraft that can reduce the cost of space flight and even help future mechanisms go to Mars.
Heat shields are used as brakes to stop the combustion of spacecraft and failures when entering and exiting the planet’s atmosphere. This design is the first in the world to use centrifugal forces that strengthen lightweight materials to prevent burnout.
Modern methods of thermal protection of spacecraft include huge inflatable and mechanically deployed structures. Often they are heavy and difficult to use. Ryu Wu of the Manchester School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering says that with the ease of design, the prototype is also “self-regulating.” That is, there is no need for additional machines and the weight of the device is reduced, which allows for low-cost scientific research and the restoration of parts of rockets.
Spacecraft for future missions should be large and heavy, forcing them to improve heat shields. To meet the requirements, Wu and his team developed a flexible heat shield that is shaped like a skirt and whirlwinds. Planets with an atmosphere like Earth and Mars allow the use of aerodynamic drag to slow down.
The rapid penetration of the Earth’s atmosphere creates heat with a magnitude of 10,000C, which is why the air around the spacecraft can burn in the plasma. For safe entry, the device needs a shield that withstands high temperature readings and has an aerodynamic shape that creates resistance. But the Martian atmosphere is much thinner.
For the transport of heavy equipment and astronauts will need an area of great resistance. Protective taps help avoid burnout and generate resistance with the support of large loads. Wu's design potentially solves these problems.
The prototype is made of flexible material that makes it easy to store on board a spacecraft. It will be durable, foldable and endowed with high heat resistance. The shield is sewn according to a special pattern that allows it to rotate during the flight, causing centrifugal force. Wu adds that space exploration is expensive. But its prototype is light and flexible, so it can be used on smaller satellites, and research will become easier and cheaper.