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When a polar satellite designed to improve weather forecasts launched early Thursday morning, it tagged an experimental heat shield that could land humans on Mars.
Both of the two separate missions were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Station in Lompoc, California.
Both missions were originally scheduled to launch on November 1, but were delayed by failure of the rocket’s upper-stage battery. Engineers replaced the battery and retested it to get it ready for the new launch date.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have launched weather satellites since 1960. Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) will be his third satellite in NOAA’s latest-generation constellation of polar orbiting environmental satellites.
The orbiter will collect data that will help scientists predict and prepare for extreme weather events such as hurricanes, snowstorms and floods.
The satellite can monitor wildfires and volcanoes, measure the ocean and atmosphere, and detect dust and smoke in the air. It also monitors ozone and air temperature, providing more insight into the climate crisis.
Once in orbit and circling the Earth from North Pole to South Pole, the satellite will be renamed NOAA-21. According to NOAA, the satellite observes every point on Earth he does at least twice a day. And when you check the weather on your phone, it provides data captured by satellites.
JPSS-2 joins two other satellites, the Suomi National Polar Orbiting Partnership and NOAA-20, which make up the Joint Polar Satellite System.
“JPSS will provide observations more than twice a day in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It helps us monitor weather systems that are only available,” said Jordan Gerth. , prior to launch he was a meteorologist and satellite scientist for NOAA’s National Weather Service.
The secondary payload to board the rocket is NASA’s Inflatable Reducer Technology Demonstration Low Earth Orbit Flight Test (LOFTID).
The mission is designed to test the inflatable heat shield technology needed to land manned missions to Mars and large robotic missions to Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan. Something like LOFTID can also be used when returning large payloads to Earth.
Aeroshells or heat shields currently in use depend on the size of the rocket shroud, making it difficult to send robotic probes or humans to other worlds with atmospheres.
But an inflatable aeroshell could bypass that dependency and allow heavier missions to be sent to another planet.
When a spacecraft enters the planet’s atmosphere, it is subject to aerodynamic forces that slow it down.
Mars, whose atmosphere is only 1% denser than Earth’s atmosphere, needs extra help to create the drag needed to slow down spacecraft and land them safely.
As such, NASA engineers believe that a large deployable aeroshell like LOFTID, which is inflated and protected by a flexible heat shield, could brake while traveling through the Martian atmosphere.
Aeroshells are designed to create more drag in the upper atmosphere to help the spacecraft slow down faster. The LOFTID demonstration is approximately 20 feet (6 meters) wide.
About 90 minutes after launch, LOFTID peeled off the polar satellite and bulged.
The aeroshell then separated from the upper stage and re-entered the atmosphere from low-Earth orbit, allowing researchers to assess whether the heat shield was effective in slowing and surviving.
Sensors aboard LOFTID were set to record heat shield experiences during harrowing descents. According to Joe Del Corso, his LOFTID project manager at NASA Langley Research Center, six cameras will capture his 360-degree video of his LOFTID experiment. Pre-launch in Hampton, Virginia.
During re-entry, LOFTID faced temperatures approaching 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and reached speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour — The ultimate test of materials used to build inflatable structures, including a woven ceramic fabric called silicon carbide.
LOFTID’s heat shield and backup data recorder landed in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles off the coast of Hawaii, where a team of boats was stationed to retrieve the item, according to NASA officials.
Now NASA can land 1 ton (2,205 pounds) on the surface of Mars. A car-sized Perseverance Rover. But something like LOFTID could land on Mars where he weighs between 20 and 40 tons (44,092 to 88,184 pounds), Del Corso said.
The results of Thursday’s demonstration could one day determine the entry, descent and landing techniques for carrying a human crew to the Martian surface.