WASHINGTON (TIP): Researchers at Nasa have successfully tested an umbrella-like heat shield made of carbon fabric that could protect future Mars exploration vehicles from extreme heat when entering the red planet’s atmosphere.

As Nasa missions to Mars progress with science and complex human exploration missions, spacecrafts will require larger heat shields to protect against the extreme heat of entering a planet’s atmosphere and decelerating at a safe altitude in the thin Martian atmosphere, the US space agency said.

Today’s rockets have limited space to accommodate spacecraft and their heat shields.

However, engineers at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre may have a solution —Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT).

ADEPT is a mechanically-deployable heat shield concept using carbon fabric— a flexible heat shield that expands to “open” like an umbrella.

Ames’ engineers have successfully completed heating simulation testing of an ADEPT model under conditions akin to entering the Martian atmosphere.

The test used a blast of hot air from a 21 inches diameter nozzle to simulate a bow shock wave in front of a 2 m wide ADEPT shield, which was attached to a water—cooled support arm.

During the tests, temperatures on the shield reached 1,700 degrees Celsius while bluish streaks streamed away as a special resin—infused protective coating ablated from the stitching.

Extensive instrumentation and imaging products from the test will be used to validate how materials respond to the testing conditions, and thermo—structural design codes.

The testing approach demonstrated with this test will enable future, more extensive testing of the ADEPT configuration — towards possible future use of the system on missions bigger than anything NASA’s ever flown.

The ADEPT project is led by Nasa’s Ames Research Centre, with contributions from multiple other Nasa centres.