NASA tests foldable heat shield

NASA’s Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology (ADEPT) is a foldable carbon fabric device that opens to make an umbrella-like heat shield.
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The first flight test for NASA’s (Washington, DC, US) Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology (ADEPT) heat shield took place Sept. 12. The device, which was developed at Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA, US), was launched in a stowed configuration aboard a UP Aerospace (Denver, CO, US) suborbital rocket from Spaceport America (New Mexico, US). It then separated from the rocket and deployed approximately 60 miles above the Earth. The test was conducted to observe the ADEPT’s deployment and assess aerodynamic stability.  


ADEPT’s umbrella-like design uses flexible 3D woven carbon fabric skin, which serves as the main component of the thermal protection system (TPS) for entry, descent and landing. The heat-deflecting carbon fabric is stretched over deployable ribs and struts. When deployed, the heat shield measures 28 inches in diameter. The configuration for the flight test included a payload based on the size of a three unit (3U) CubeSat (about 12" by 4" by 4"). Eventually the foldable deployment system design can be adapted for larger heat shields, potentially enabling interplanetary missions.

The carbon fiber skin deflects the heat away from the spacecraft, making ADEPT a potential alternative to sacrificial heat shields that are designed to burn away in layers upon reentry. 

“Carbon fabric has been the major recent breakthrough enabling this technology, as it utilizes pure carbon yarns that are woven three-dimensionally to give you a very durable surface,” says Wercinski. “Carbon is a wonderful material for high temperature applications.” 

According to NASA, next steps for ADEPT project include a test for an Earth entry at higher “orbital” speeds, roughly 17,000 miles per hour, to support maturing the technology for potential missions to Venus, Mars or Titan, and also returning lunar samples back to Earth.