Scientists have developed a flexible, spinning heat shield for spacecraft that could reduce the cost of space travel and aid future space missions to Mars. Heat shields are essentially used as the brakes to stop spacecraft burning up and crashing on entry and re-entry into a planet’s atmosphere.
The design is the first in the world to utilize centrifugal forces that stiffen lightweight materials to prevent burn up.
Current spacecraft heat shield methods include huge inflatables and mechanically deployed structures that are often heavy and complicated to use.
Rui Wu, from the University of Manchester in the UK, said as well as being lightweight in design is prototype is also “self-regulating”. This means there is no need for any additional machinery, reducing the weight of spacecraft even further and allowing for low-cost scientific research and recovery of rocket parts.
For safe atmospheric entry, spacecraft need a front end, or shield, that tolerates high heat as well as an aerodynamic shape that generates drag.
The shield is also stitched along a special pattern that allows it to spin up during flight, inducing centrifugal force.