Redwire Providing Key Hardware for New NASA LOFTID Heat Shield Technology Demonstration

Because Redwire engineers, building new infrastructure and developing new solutions are all in a day’s work.

In 2021, Redwire engineers have successfully delivered the hardware for a NASA technology demonstration known as Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of the Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID. This project, a partnership between NASA and United Launch Allianceintended to make a new large inflatable heat shield for re-entry into the atmosphere for one launch NOAA The Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) weather and climate satellite mission is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base California to Nov. 10, 2022.

Under contract with NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), Redwire provided the LOFTID mission with the Engineering Development Unit (EDU) and the aircraft variant of the Ejectable Data Recorder (EDR) hardware. The EDR consists of three aircraft components: the Ejectable Data Module (EDM) and the Ejectable Data Module Interface (EDMI) provided Redwireand a launch system provided by NASA. Redwire it also provided ground systems hardware, particularly aircraft location beacons, and ground support modules (including ground stations, RF relays and cell phones) to assist in locating and recovering EDMs. Flight data, including video and onboard telemetry, recorded in the EDR will help test large-scale inflatable heat shield technology, which may support future use to return large payloads to Earth and send cargo and crew systems to Mars.

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In addition, in November 2020, Redwire delivered the Flight Uplook wireless camera for LOFTID equipment through a previous contract NASA Ames Research Center. Video from the Uplook camera of superheated air behind a heat shield will provide valuable insight into heat shield technology.

Spacecraft use heat shields, also called aeroshells, to protect against high temperatures—over 2900 F (1600 C)—when entering space. Conventional rigid aeroshells are limited by the size of the rocket fabric on which the spacecraft is launched, but an inflatable aeroshell has no such limitation. The inflatable aeroshell also allows for efficient use of space inside the launch vehicle. For LOFTID, NASA developed an inflatable aeroshell measuring 6 meters (20 feet) in diameter, making it the largest inflatable heat shield ever tested. This technology is important for future missions to Mars because a large aeroshell is needed to sustain spacecraft landing on Mars due to the planet’s thin atmosphere. It could also allow very heavy payloads from low Earth orbit, such as space products from future commercial space stations, to be safely returned to Earth.

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Towards the end April 2021, Redwire engineers completed the EDM drop test, releasing the EDM from an aircraft flying about 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above the reservoir. In Colorado. A successful landing test aimed at ensuring that the EDM can survive landing at sea after release. A powered EDM was found in the reservoir and engineers performed post-drop performance tests on the hardware, confirming that the EDM survived the impact and continued to operate as intended. The EDM spacecraft will be ejected from the LOFTID reentry vehicle after completing reentry at approximately 50,000 ft altitude, and is designed to survive more than 1 month in the open ocean using LoRa and Iridium radios to transmit its location, though that is expected. to recover quickly after a collision.

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Redwire Engineers performed extensive testing including development, risk mitigation qualification and ultimately acceptance testing of aircraft and ground systems, to successfully deliver Flight EDM units, EDMI, and Locator Beacons to NASA LaRC August 2021. Redwire also delivers Engineering Development Unit EDMs, substations, RF relays, mobile phones with custom recovery software, in addition to the above mentioned flight units. Redwire complete all data documentation submitted to the LOFTID system at September 2021completing the final pre-launch test of the JPSS-2 satellite.

A successful test of a large inflatable aeroshell with the LOFTID mission will help pave the way for landing human and cargo systems on Mars and safely returning space-produced materials to Earth. Redwire components, sensors, and cameras play an important role in developing these new technologies, too Redwire’s engineering expertise will continue to support future efforts to develop technologies that create a strong space economy and move humans beyond low-Earth orbit and into a new era of deep space exploration.

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