Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23rd IRVE-3 Flight Goes Well!

The above images were taken during the July 23rd flight of IRVE-3. The left images are from two of the cameras aboard IRVE-3 showing the earth from the flight apogee of 285 miles. The right images, from the same two cameras, show IRVE-3 fully inflated prior to reentry. The Images were broadcast by NASA TV via Ustream Live. Image Credit: NASA

This morning, July 23rd, at approximately 7:01 AM EDT, a Black Brant XI rocket launched the third Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The flight reached an apogee of 285 miles and then inflated IRVE-3 prior to reentry.

The experiment splashed down about 20 minutes after launch. It was originally expected to land about 100 miles (161 kilometers) off of the coast of North Carolina, but mission engineers reported that the trajectory took IRVE-3 a little farther than expected. Even so, engineers report that the flight went very well.

The purpose of the IRVE-3 test was to show that a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, or as it returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station.

How IRVE-3 Worked

IRVE-3 was a cone of uninflated high-tech rings covered by a thermal blanket of layers of heat resistant materials. About 6 minutes into the sub-orbital flight, the 680-pound inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, and its payload separated from the launch vehicle's 22-inch-diameter nose cone about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean.

An inflation system then pumped nitrogen into the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it expanded to a mushroom shape almost 10 feet in diameter. Then the aeroshell plummeted at hypersonic speeds through Earth's atmosphere. Engineers in the Wallops control room watched as four onboard cameras confirmed the inflatable shield held its shape despite the force and high heat of reentry. Onboard instruments provided temperature and pressure data. Researchers will study that information to help develop future inflatable heat shield designs.

The IRVE-3 test was a follow-on to the successful IRVE-2, which showed an inflatable heat shield could survive intact after coming through Earth's atmosphere. IRVE-3 was the same size as IRVE-2, but had a heavier payload and was subjected to a much higher re-entry heat, more like what a heat shield might encounter in space.

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) is part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Project within the Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA's Space Technology Program.

Further information on the mission is available at:

Further information on the IRVE-3 is available at:


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