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NASA seeks students’ ideas for inflatable heat shield technology

October 1st, 2015 / By: / Industry News

NASA has launched its Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, offering students the chance to participate in the agency’s journey to Mars.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking innovative ideas for generating lift using inflatable spacecraft heat shields or hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD) technology.

Weighing in at one ton, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is the heaviest payload that has ever landed on the planet. To slow a vehicle carrying a significantly heavier payload through Mars’ thin atmosphere and safely land it on the surface is a significant challenge NASA is addressing through the development of large aeroshells that can provide enough aerodynamic drag to decelerate and deliver larger payloads. HIAD technology is a leading idea because these kinds of aeroshells can also generate lift, which would allow the agency to potentially do different kinds of missions.

Interested teams of three to five undergraduate and/or graduate students are asked to submit white papers describing their concepts by Nov. 15. Concepts may employ new approaches such as shape morphing and pneumatic actuation to dynamically alter the HIAD inflatable structure.

Selected teams will continue in the competition by submitting in the spring of 2016 full technical papers on the concept. Up to four teams will present their concepts to a panel of NASA judges at the BIG Idea Forum at Langley in April 2016.