JBE Fabricated the Flexible Thermal Protection System for NASA’s LOFTID
Jackson Bond Enterprises (JBE) fabricated the Flexible Thermal Protection System (FTPS) for NASA’s Bernard Kutter Low Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID). LOFTID was a flight test demonstrating the ability of a Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) to slow down a payload upon re-entry from low Earth orbit utilizing aerodynamic drag. LOFTID saw over twice the velocity and peak heating rate of the previous HIAD flight test, IRVE-III. The LOFTID flight test was a successful demonstration of the technology, validating this new type of heat shield for potential commercial applications.
Since 2010, JBE has been working closely with a team at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) supporting the development of HIAD technology. During this time, JBE has fabricated seven HIAD FTPS units ranging from 1m to 6m in diameter, iterating and improving with each article. 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 LOFTID. The aft FTPS featured the name of Bernard Kutter, manager of advanced programs at United Launch Alliance (ULA) and advocate for HIAD technology, who passed away in August 2020.
Jackson Bond Enterprises performed room temperature and elevated temperature tensile testing on all FTPS components to determine material characteristics and strength limitations of the materials. The elevated temperature testing was performed in JBE’s environmental testing chamber capable of reaching 537°C at controlled rates up to 250°C/min. JBE also performed FTPS aging testing by packing scaled test sections to specified packing densities and reviewing for any potential damage.
LOFTID was fabricated with Gen 2 materials specifically designed for HIAD FTPSs, some of which were co-developed by NASA and JBE. Specialized proprietary equipment has been developed by JBE to address the challenges related to constructing large scale FTPSs from ceramic woven fabric and complex insulating materials. Between the deployable FTPS and nose FTPS, JBE installed a total of 48 thermocouples as well as other thermal sensors used to log data during the flight.
JBE is grateful to have been a part of NASA’s HIAD program over the years and looks forward to further progressing the technology in the future.
Header photo of inflated LOFTID FTPS credit of NASA LaRC
Written by Jeremy Kiefer, Senior Mechanical Engineer at JBE.