An test heat shield was launched early on Thursday morning with a polar satellite intended to enhance weather forecasting. It could send people to Mars.
Both of the two distinct missions were launched from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in Lompoc, California, using United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.
Originally scheduled to launch on November 1, both missions were delayed due to an issue with the rocket’s upper stage battery. To prepare for the new launch date, engineers updated the battery and retested it.
Since 1960, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have launched weather satellites. In a fleet of NOAA’s most recent polar-orbiting environmental satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System-2, or JPSS-2, will be the third satellite.
In order to foresee and be ready for extreme weather events like hurricanes, snowstorms, and floods, the orbiter will gather data.
The satellite will be able to assess the ocean and atmosphere, keep an eye on wildfires and volcanoes, and spot smoke and dust in the air. In order to gain deeper understanding of the climate crisis, it will also monitor the ozone and air temperature.
The satellite will be given the new designation NOAA-21 once it is in orbit and has completed a cycle around the planet from North to South Pole. According to NOAA, the satellite will keep track of every location on Earth at least twice every day. Additionally, the information gathered by the satellite will be used to feed the weather app on your phone.
The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership and NOAA-20 satellites, along with the JPSS-2, make up the Joint Polar Satellite System.
According to meteorologist and satellite scientist Jordan Gerth of NOAA’s National Weather Service, “JPSS provides more than twice daily observations over the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean that help meteorologists monitor weather systems where we do not have the benefit of weather balloons, and only limited buoys, compared to the dense weather station network over land.”
NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator technology demonstration, or LOFTID, is a secondary payload that is travelling on the rocket.
The goal of the mission is to evaluate the inflatable heat shield technology that will be required for crewed missions to Mars and more ambitious robotic expeditions to Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan. Heavy payloads could be returned to Earth using a system similar to LOFTID.
It can be difficult to send humans or robotic explorers to planets with atmospheres since the aeroshells, or heat shields, that are currently in use depend on the size of a rocket’s shroud.
However, an inflatable aeroshell could avoid such need and allow for the dispatch of heavier missions to many planets.
Aerodynamic forces are applied to a spacecraft as it reaches a planet’s atmosphere, which aids in slowing it down.
To generate the drag required to slow down and safely land a spaceship on Mars, where the atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere, further assistance is required.
For this reason, according to NASA experts, a sizable deployable aeroshell like LOFTID, which inflates and is shielded by a pliable heat shield, might apply the breaks as it descends into the Martian atmosphere.
In order to help the spaceship slow down more quickly and stop some of the extremely intense heating, the aeroshell is built to produce higher drag in the upper atmosphere. About 6 metres across is the LOFTID demonstration.
LOFTID detached from the polar satellite and expanded 90 minutes after launch.
The aeroshell later detach from the upper stage and reenter the atmosphere from low-Earth orbit so that scientists could examine how well the heat shield slowed it down and helped it survive.
Aboard LOFTID, sensors were placed to capture the heat shield’s terrifying drop. Before the launch, Joe Del Corso, project manager for LOFTID at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, stated that six cameras will record 360-degree video of the experiment.
The materials used to build the inflatable structure, which includes a woven ceramic fabric called silicon carbide, were put to the ultimate test upon reentry, when LOFTID encountered temperatures that reached 1650 degrees Celcius and speeds of about 30,000 kilometres per hour.
NASA officials reported that LOFTID’s backup data recorder and heat shield splashed down in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles off the coast of Hawaii. A team aboard a boat was waiting to recover the devices.
Currently, NASA can place objects weighing one metric tonne, like as the Perseverance rover, on the Martian surface. But according to Del Corso, a mission like LOFTID might drop between 20 and 40 metric tonnes of material on Mars.
The outcome of Thursday’s demonstration could influence the entry, descent, and landing equipment that eventually brings manned personnel to Mars’ surface.