A rocket launch scheduled Sunday morning in Virginia may help spacecraft land on other planets, according to NASA.
In exploring the unknown, scientists often speed up subatomic particles, with the aid of devices called accelerators. The device to be launched from Wallops Island on the Atlantic Coast is designed to do the opposite. It is to slow down of spacecraft as they descend onto earth or other worlds. It is known as a decelerator.
The new piece of equipment is part of NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator project, and its launch on a rocket, scheduled to occur between 6 a.m and 8 a.m., is formally designated as an Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment. The reentry device has been likened to a giant cone of inner tubes, that would fill just before use.
Engineers suggest that such a shield could be lighter and bigger than present reentry systems. Thus, they say, it could protect more efficiently against heat and impact, allowing for an increase in spacecraft sizes and payloads.
The test vehicle is to go up 280 miles before hurtling back to the surface of the Atlantic, about 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras.