Members Can Post Anonymously On This Site
5 Min Read The Heat is On! NASA’s “Flawless” Heat Shield Demo Passes the Test
The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, spacecraft is pictured after its atmospheric re-entry test in November 2022. Credits: NASA / Greg Swanson A little more than a year ago, a NASA flight test article came screaming back from space at more than 18,000 mph, reaching temperatures of nearly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit before gently splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. At that moment, it became the largest blunt body — a type of reentry vehicle that creates a heat-deflecting shockwave — ever to reenter Earth’s atmosphere.
The Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) launched on Nov. 10, 2022, aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket and successfully demonstrated an inflatable heat shield. Also known as a Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) aeroshell, this technology could allow larger spacecraft to safely descend through the atmospheres of celestial bodies like Mars, Venus, and even Saturn’s moon, Titan.
“Large-diameter aeroshells allow us to deliver critical support hardware, and potentially even crew, to the surface of planets with atmospheres. This capability is crucial for the nation’s ambition of expanding human and robotic exploration across our solar system,” said Trudy Kortes, director of the Technology Demonstrations Missions (TDM) program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NASA has been developing HIAD technologies for over a decade, including two smaller scale suborbital flight tests before LOFTID. In addition to this successful tech demo, NASA is investigating future applications, including partnering with commercial companies to develop technologies for small satellite reentry, aerocapture, and cislunar payloads.
“This was a keystone event for us, and the short answer is: It was highly successful,” said LOFTID Project Manager Joe Del Corso. “Our assessment of LOFTID concluded with the promise of what this technology may do to empower the exploration of deep space.”
Due to the success of the LOFTID tech demo, NASA announced under its Tipping Point program that it would partner with ULA to develop and deliver the “next size up,” a larger 12-meter HIAD aeroshell for recovering the company’s Vulcan engines from low Earth orbit for reuse.
A Successful Test in the Books, A Video Recap
The LOFTID team recently held a post-flight analysis assessment of the flight test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Their verdict?
Upon recovery, the team discovered LOFTID appeared pristine, with minimal damage, meaning its performance was, as Del Corso puts it, “Just flawless.”
Here are some interesting visual highlights from LOFTID’s flight test.
NASA To get to atmospheric reentry, LOFTID had to go through an intricate sequence of events. Del Corso compared it to a Rube Goldberg device, a complex machine designed to carry out simple tasks through a series of chain reactions.
Video captured the moment LOFTID deployed the HIAD (on the left), compared to a preflight animation developed by NASA Langley’s Advanced Concepts Lab (on the right). Inflation happens at the bottom of the video as LOFTID flies over the African continent.
NASA As it flew over the Mediterranean Sea, LOFTID separated from the ULA Centaur upper stage. On the left, LOFTID is seen from Centaur’s forward-facing camera. The composite image on the right is from cameras around LOFTID’s center body, looking forward and outboard at the orange inflatable HIAD structure. In the center, looking back at Centaur, LOFTID is seen from an aft-facing camera.
NASA As LOFTID reentered Earth’s atmosphere and reached nearly 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the extreme heat caused gases around it to ionize and form plasma. On the right, the images from the center body cameras became extremely bright in the visible spectrum, while the Earth is visible on infrared cameras as the vehicle rotated.
The camera captured footage of the plasma quickly changing colors from orange to purple. Why the color change? “We’re still investigating exactly what causes that,” said John DiNonno, LOFTID chief engineer. The animation on the left shows an artist’s concept of what the front side may have looked like.
NASA This video, captured by NASA Langley’s Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery team, shows LOFTID during peak deceleration as the plasma recedes. On the left, LOFTID streaks through the night sky over the Pacific Ocean. On the right, the purple coloration flares up on the back side of LOFTID.
In the second part of the video, the left shifts to one of the cameras looking at the back of the aeroshell, with the receding plasma streaking at its edge.
NASA After slowing down from more than 18,000 mph to less than 80 mph, LOFTID deployed its parachutes.
From an infrared camera aboard the recovery ship, this video shows the parachute deployment and splashdown just over the horizon. The preflight animation is provided on the right for comparison.
NASA LOFTID splashed down in the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles off the east coast of Hawaii and only about eight miles from the recovery ship’s bow — almost exactly as modeled. A crew got on a small boat and retrieved and hoisted LOFTID onto the recovery ship. Here is an image from the first contact with LOFTID after it splashed down.
“The LOFTID mission was important because it proved the cutting-edge HIAD design functioned successfully at an appropriate scale and in a relevant environment,” said Tawnya Laughinghouse, manager of the TDM program office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The LOFTID demonstration was a public private-partnership with ULA funded by STMD and managed by the Technology Demonstration Mission Program, executed by NASA Langley with contributions from across NASA centers. Multiple U.S. small businesses contributed to the hardware. NASA’s Launch Services Program was responsible for NASA’s oversight of launch operations.
For more information on LOFTID, click here.
Last Updated Nov 17, 2023 Related Terms
Langley Research Center LOFTID (Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator) Technology Demonstration Explore More
4 min read NASA Technologies Receive Multiple Nods in TIME Inventions of 2023
Article 3 weeks ago 4 min read Aviones de movilidad aérea avanzada: un viaje suave en el futuro
Article 3 weeks ago 5 min read NASA’s First Two-way End-to-End Laser Communications Relay System
Article 3 weeks ago View the full article
6 min read
NASA’s Deep Space Optical Comm Demo Sends, Receives First Data
NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is shown in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 8, 2022. DSOC’s gold-capped flight laser transceiver can be seen, near center, attached to the spacecraft.NASA/Ben Smegelsky DSOC, an experiment that could transform how spacecraft communicate, has achieved ‘first light,’ sending data via laser to and from far beyond the Moon for the first time.
NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment has beamed a near-infrared laser encoded with test data fromnearly 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) away – about 40 times farther than the Moon is from Earth – to the Hale Telescope at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California. This is the farthest-ever demonstration of optical communications.
Riding aboard the recently launched Psyche spacecraft, DSOC is configured to send high-bandwidth test data to Earth during its two-year technology demonstration as Psyche travels to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California manages both DSOC and Psyche.
The tech demo achieved “first light” in the early hours of Nov. 14 after its flight laser transceiver – a cutting-edge instrument aboard Psyche capable of sending and receiving near-infrared signals – locked onto a powerful uplink laser beacon transmitted from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at JPL’s Table Mountain Facility near Wrightwood, California. The uplink beacon helped the transceiver aim its downlink laser back to Palomar (which is 100 miles, or 130 kilometers, south of Table Mountain) while automated systems on the transceiver and ground stations fine-tuned its pointing.
Learn more about how DSOC will be used to test high-bandwidth data transmission beyond the Moon for the first time – and how it could transform deep space exploration. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU “Achieving first light is one of many critical DSOC milestones in the coming months, paving the way toward higher-data-rate communications capable of sending scientific information, high-definition imagery, and streaming video in support of humanity’s next giant leap: sending humans to Mars,” said Trudy Kortes, director of Technology Demonstrations at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Test data also was sent simultaneously via the uplink and downlink lasers, a procedure known as “closing the link” that is a primary objective for the experiment. While the technology demonstration isn’t transmitting Psyche mission data, it works closely with the Psyche mission-support team to ensure DSOC operations don’t interfere with those of the spacecraft.
“Tuesday morning’stest was the first to fully incorporate the ground assets and flight transceiver, requiring the DSOC and Psyche operations teams to work in tandem,” said Meera Srinivasan, operations lead for DSOC at JPL. “It was a formidable challenge, and we have a lot more work to do, but for a short time, we were able to transmit, receive, and decode some data.”
Before this achievement, the project needed to check the boxes on several other milestones, from removing the protective cover for the flight laser transceiver to powering up the instrument. Meanwhile, the Psyche spacecraft is carrying out its own checkouts, including powering up its propulsion systems and testing instruments that will be used to study the asteroid Psyche when it arrives there in 2028.
First Light and First Bits
With successful first light, the DSOC team will now work on refining the systems that control the pointing of the downlink laser aboard the transceiver. Once achieved, the project can begin its demonstration of maintaining high-bandwidth data transmission from the transceiver to Palomar at various distances from Earth. This data takes the form of bits (the smallest units of data a computer can process) encoded in the laser’s photons – quantum particles of light. After a special superconducting high-efficiency detector array detects the photons, new signal-processing techniques are used to extract the data from the single photons that arrive at the Hale Telescope.
The DSOC experiment aims to demonstrate data transmission rates 10 to 100 times greater than the state-of-the-art radio frequency systems used by spacecraft today. Both radio and near-infrared laser communications utilize electromagnetic waves to transmit data, but near-infrared light packs the data into significantly tighter waves, enabling ground stations to receive more data. This will help future human and robotic exploration missions and support higher-resolution science instruments.
The flight laser transceiver operations team for NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration works in the Psyche mission support area at JPL in the early hours of Nov. 14, when the project achieved “first light.” NASA/JPL-Caltech DSOC ground laser transmitter operators pose for a photo at the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory at JPL’s Table Mountain Facility near Wrightwood, California, shortly after the technology demonstration achieved “first light” on Nov. 14.NASA/JPL-Caltech “Optical communication is a boon for scientists and researchers who always want more from their space missions, and will enable human exploration of deep space,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, director of the Advanced Communications and Navigation Technologies Division within NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. “More data means more discoveries.”
While optical communication has been demonstrated in low Earth orbit and out to the Moon, DSOC is the first test in deep space. Like using a laser pointer to track a moving dime from a mile away, aiming a laser beam over millions of miles requires extremely precise “pointing.”
The demonstration also needs to compensate for the time it takes for light to travel from the spacecraft to Earth over vast distances: At Psyche’s farthest distance from our planet, DSOC’s near-infrared photons will take about 20 minutes to travel back (they took about 50 seconds to travel from Psyche to Earth during the Nov. 14 test). In that time, both spacecraft and planet will have moved, so the uplink and downlink lasers need to adjust for the change in location. “Achieving first light is a tremendous achievement. The ground systems successfully detected the deep space laser photons from DSOC’s flight transceiver aboard Psyche,” said Abi Biswas, project technologist for DSOC at JPL. “And we were also able to send some data, meaning we were able to exchange ‘bits of light’ from and to deep space.”
More About the Mission
DSOC is the latest in a series of optical communication demonstrations funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program within the agency’s Space Operations Mission Directorate.
The Psyche mission is led by Arizona State University. JPL is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program under the Science Mission Directorate, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, managed the launch service. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.
For more information about DSOC, visit:
News Media Contact
Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Last Updated Nov 16, 2023 Related Terms
Psyche Mission Space Communications & Navigation Program Space Operations Mission Directorate Space Technology Mission Directorate Tech Demo Missions Explore More
5 min read Cube Quest Concludes: Wins, Lessons Learned from Centennial Challenge
Article 3 hours ago 2 min read Pale Blue Dot: Visualization Challenge
Article 1 day ago 4 min read Volunteers Worldwide Successfully Tracked NASA’s Artemis I Mission
Article 1 day ago Keep Exploring Discover Related Topics
Humans in Space
View the full article
5 min read
Joshua Abel: Delivering Roman’s Optical Telescope Assembly On Time, On Target
Joshua Abel’s job as lead systems engineer for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s Optical Telescope Assembly is “to deliver the assembly to the Roman observatory on time, within budget, and meeting all the technical requirements.”Credit: NASA / Chris Gunn Name: Joshua Abel
Title: Lead systems engineer for the Roman Space Optical Telescope Assembly
Formal Job Classification: Flight Systems Design Engineer
Organization: Instrument/Payload Systems Engineering Branch (Code 592), Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division, Engineering and Technology Directorate
Editor’s note: The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA) includes the telescope’s primary and secondary mirrors, as well as supporting optics. The OTA enables the telescope to collect light that is then delivered to the observatory instruments.
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
As the lead systems engineer for the Roman Space Telescope Optical Telescope Assembly, I am the government technical authority for procurement of the assembly, currently being manufactured by L3Harris Corporation in Rochester, New York. I am responsible for technical oversight of the vendor and verifying requirements.
What was your path to becoming an aerospace engineer at Goddard?
In 1999, I received a B.S. in interdisciplinary engineering focused on biomedical engineering from Purdue University. I began a master’s in biomedical engineering in bioheat transfer from Purdue University, but left in 2001 to work at Space Systems/Loral as a thermal systems engineer for satellites.
In 2005, I came to Goddard to work on Hubble Servicing Mission 4 and other NASA satellite servicing projects as a thermal systems engineer. In 2018, I began supporting the New Opportunities Office as a systems engineer, later joining the Instrument/Payload Systems Engineering Branch in my current role.
What are your goals as the lead systems engineer for the Roman Space Telescope Optical Telescope Assembly?
My goal is to deliver the assembly to the Roman observatory on time, within budget, and meeting all the technical requirements. I lead a small team of subject matter experts to review the vendor’s plans and help resolve any technical issues.
What is your management style?
I have a broad engineering background which helps me ask the right questions. I like to build consensus within the team and consolidate everyone’s work into a cohesive and understandable package, communicating complex issues both within the team and to management.
What makes Goddard special?
Everyone here loves their work and is focused on mission success. Even when conversations are difficult and the stakes are high, the emotion comes from caring so deeply. As a systems engineer, my goal is to listen to all ideas and help find the best direction for the project.
Systems engineer Joshua Abel is a team player at work, where he and his team review vendor plans and resolve technical issues for the Roman Space Telescope’s Optical Telescope Assembly, and at home, where he plays and coaches soccer.Courtesy of Joshua Abel What drives you?
I try to do what is needed and contribute to the best of my ability. I am energized when someone says they need help, be it fixing things that are broken or putting new things together. I’m always excited to continue to learn from the our expert team members and vendors.
I prefer working in a team. I like the dynamic environment of systems engineering, which is full of difficult problems that need a larger group to get enough perspectives to solve.
My background and skill mix are a little bit of everything. I enjoy English, communication, math, and science. These interests help me see different sides of a problem.
I like to take things that are slow and repetitive and make them faster and more interesting for myself and others. For example, I like to write Microsoft Excel programs to analyze thermal model data and other large databases to improve productivity.
What advice would you give young engineers?
Take whatever project you are working on and exceed expectations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Early tasks for young engineers are not always the most exciting, but work to the best of your ability and try to learn as much as you can. Understand the job and try to see if it can be accomplished better or faster. If you approach every task with this attitude, the next opportunity will always come.
Build your network of experts and use their lessons learned to help your project, always returning that help when you can. Oftentimes the most important piece of knowledge you’ll be able to provide your team is simply knowing who to call to for advice. All of NASA’s engineers are always willing to help.
What are your hobbies?
I play and coach soccer and I also play guitar with my three children around our fire pit. Like every engineer, I’m continually working on home improvement projects for my favorite manager, my wife, who is a thermal systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Conversations With Goddard is a collection of Q&A profiles highlighting the breadth and depth of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s talented and diverse workforce. The Conversations have been published twice a month on average since May 2011. Read past editions on Goddard’s “Our People” webpage.
By Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated Nov 14, 2023 Editor Jessica Evans Contact Rob Garnerrob.email@example.com Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
Goddard Space Flight Center Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope People of Goddard Explore More
6 min read Lynn Bassford Prioritizes Learning as a Hubble Mission Manager
Lynn Bassford levels decades of experience and a desire for self-growth as she helps lead…
Article 4 weeks ago 6 min read Glenn Bazemore: Professional Problem-Solver
Glenn Bazemore is a mechanical engineer working on the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Team.…
Article 3 months ago 5 min read Melissa Harris: Propelling Space Telescopes Toward Success
Melissa Harris is an engineer working on the propulsion system for the Nancy Grace Roman…
Article 5 months ago View the full article
4 min read
NASA’s Lucy Surprises Again, Observes 1st-ever Contact Binary Orbiting Asteroid
It turns out there is more to the “marvelous” asteroid Dinkinesh and its newly discovered satellite than first meets the eye. As NASA’s Lucy spacecraft continued to return data of its first asteroid encounter on Nov. 1, 2023, the team was surprised to discover that Dinkinesh’s unanticipated satellite is, itself, a contact binary – that is, it is made of two smaller objects touching each other.
This image shows the asteroid Dinkinesh and its satellite as seen by the Lucy Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (L’LORRI) as NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft departed the system. This image was taken at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 UTC) Nov. 1, 2023, about 6 minutes after closest approach, from a range of approximately 1,010 miles (1,630 km). From this perspective, the satellite is revealed to be a contact binary, the first time a contact binary has been seen orbiting another asteroid. NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL In the first downlinked images of Dinkinesh and its satellite, which were taken at closest approach, the two lobes of the contact binary happened to lie one behind the other from Lucy’s point of view. Only when the team downlinked additional images, captured in the minutes around the encounter, was the true nature of this object revealed.
“Contact binaries seem to be fairly common in the solar system,” said John Spencer, Lucy deputy project scientist, of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of the San-Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute. “We haven’t seen many up-close, and we’ve never seen one orbiting another asteroid. We’d been puzzling over odd variations in Dinkinesh’s brightness that we saw on approach, which gave us a hint that Dinkinesh might have a moon of some sort, but we never suspected anything so bizarre!”
Lucy’s primary goal is to survey the never-before-visited Jupiter Trojan asteroids. This first encounter with a small, main belt asteroid was only added to the mission in January 2023, primarily to serve as an in-flight test of the system that allows the spacecraft to continually track and image its asteroid targets as it flies past at high speed. The excellent performance of that system at Dinkinesh allowed the team to capture multiple perspectives on the system, which enabled the team to better understand the asteroids’ shapes and make this unexpected discovery.
“It is puzzling, to say the least,” said Hal Levison, principal investigator for Lucy, also from Southwest Research Institute. “I would have never expected a system that looks like this. In particular, I don’t understand why the two components of the satellite have similar sizes. This is going to be fun for the scientific community to figure out.”
This second image was taken about 6 minutes after closest approach from a distance of approximately 1,010 miles (1,630 km). The spacecraft traveled around 960 miles (1,500 km) between the two released images.
“It’s truly marvelous when nature surprises us with a new puzzle,” said Tom Statler, Lucy program scientist from NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Great science pushes us to ask questions that we never knew we needed to ask.”
A diagram showing the trajectory of the NASA Lucy spacecraft (red) during its flyby of the asteroid Dinkinesh and its satellite (gray). “A” marks the location of the spacecraft at 12:55 p.m. EDT (1655 UTC) Nov. 1, 2023, and an inset shows the L’LORRI image captured at that time. “B” marks the spacecraft’s position a few minutes later at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 UTC), and the inset shows the corresponding L’LORRI view at that time. Overall graphic, NASA/Goddard/SwRI; Inset “A,” NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL/NOIRLab); Inset “B,” NASA/Goddard/SwRI/Johns Hopkins APL The team is continuing to downlink and process the remainder of the encounter data from the spacecraft. Dinkinesh and its satellite are the first two of 11 asteroids that Lucy plans to explore over its 12-year journey. After skimming the inner edge of the main asteroid belt, Lucy is now heading back toward Earth for a gravity assist in December 2024. That close flyby will propel the spacecraft back through the main asteroid belt, where it will observe asteroid Donaldjohanson in 2025, and then on to the Trojan asteroids in 2027.
Lucy’s principal investigator is based out of the Boulder, Colorado, branch of Southwest Research Institute, headquartered in San Antonio. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built and operates the spacecraft. Lucy is the 13th mission in NASA’s Discovery Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Discovery Program for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
For more information about NASA’s Lucy mission, visit:
By Katherine Kretke
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
Nancy N. Jones
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated Nov 07, 2023 Editor Jamie Adkins Location Goddard Space Flight Center Related Terms
Asteroids Goddard Space Flight Center Lucy The Solar System Explore More
3 min read NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Captures its 1st Images of Asteroid Dinkinesh
NASA’s Lucy spacecraft captured its first images with a view of the main belt asteroid…
2 months ago
View the full article
Check out these Videos