A giant cone of inner tubes assembled sort of like a child’s stacking ring toy may some day help cargo, or even people, land on another planet, return to Earth or any destination with an atmosphere.
NASA calls the inflatable spacecraft technology Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator or HIAD, for short. The HIAD could give NASA more options for future planetary missions, because it could allow spacecraft to carry larger, heavier scientific instruments and other tools for exploration.
A new donut-shaped inflatable device designed to more effectively slow down a spacecraft upon atmospheric re-entry to Earth or other planets could not only be more economical than current methods, but also available as soon as 2020.
However, before the hardware can be fully developed for use on a spacecraft, the technology developed by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, had to undergo tests to validate its structural integrity. NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Flight Loads Laboratory was called on to do the job, with laboratory personnel conducting structural tests on eight different donut-shaped test articles of three different sizes. The testing occurred over a seven-month period beginning in mid-2013 and extending through early 2014.
Called the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, the concept had previously been tested under simulated flight loads, but the additional testing at NASA Armstrong helped validate models for future decelerator configurations, said Langley’s Anthony Calomino, principal investigator for materials and structures for hypersonic re-entry.
“The tests have shown what we expected with the differences in test articles,” he said. “The work (at Armstrong) helped us define where the structure will fail, which had been hard for us to capture.