Jackson Bond Enterprises Attends Launch of NASA’s Successful LOFTID HIAD Flight Test

Posted by on Nov 18, 2022 in News

Jackson Bond Enterprises Attends Launch of NASA’s Successful LOFTID HIAD Flight Test

Caption: JBE employees captured long exposure photos of ULA’s Atlas V rocket launch carrying JPSS-2 and LOFTID. (Credit: JBE’s Jeremy Kiefer and Nick Chagnon)

On Thursday November 10th, 2022, at 1:49 AM PST, employees from Jackson Bond Enterprises attended the launch of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying JPSS-2 and LOFTID. The Low Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, was a NASA technology demonstration test of a new type of decelerator with wide reaching applications. Jackson Bond Enterprises fabricated the 6m (19.7ft) flexible thermal protection system (FTPS), nose FTPS, aft FTPS, inflation lines, pressure sense lines, and thermocouples for this successful technology demonstration.

Image of JBE employees at LOFTID Launch standing in front of LOFTID poster and photographing the launch.
Caption: JBE employees at launch of ULA’s Atlas V rocket carrying JPSS-2 and LOFTID. (Credit: JBE)

Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators, or HIADs, are packable and deployable heat shields used to slow down payloads as they enter atmospheres. HIADs offer several advantages over traditional rigid heat shields, primarily through significantly reduced packed size, and reduced mass. After the vehicle was recovered, ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno tweeted, “As amazing as she looked in the Lab, #LOFTID is even more beautiful on the deck of our recovery ship…” In an early results press briefing Joe Del Corso, Project Manager for LOFTID, claimed, “The demonstration was a huge success.”

Image of LOFTID re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Image of recovered LOFTID aeroshell.
Caption: LOFTID moments after separation from Centaur second stage as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. Image on the right shows the recovered HIAD on the ship. (Credit: NASA and ULA)

Neil Cheatwood, Principal Investigator for LOFTID, stated in a New York Times article that NASA has been approached by about a dozen companies eager to implement HIADs for their specific applications. One of these applications is with ULA to recover the first stage BE-4 engines of their new Vulcan rockets as part of their Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) reuse plan. ULA’s interest in using these decelerators was their motivation for partnering with NASA for the LOFTID launch. The current plan for engine recovery involves landing the HIAD in the ocean with the engines upright and recovering the assembly similar to LOFTID. Outpost Space is another company looking to utilize HIADs to recover reusable satellites to reduce cost while placing an emphasis on sustainability. 

Caption: Vulcan HIAD concept shown on left, and LOFTID floating upright in water (Credit: NASA)

JBE is eager to learn as much as possible from the recovered LOFTID article and appreciates the continued relationship with NASA, supporting development of the HIAD technology. JBE was recently awarded multiple technical tracks in an IDIQ contract with NASA to pursue IAD FTPS and Inflatable Structure (IS) development over the next 5-10 years. The focus of these contracts is to address issues related to fabricating articles at scales needed for ULA’s SMART reuse program as well as articles necessary to enable human travel to Mars.

Written by Jeremy Kiefer, Senior Mechanical Engineer @ JBE.