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NASA is testing an inflatable heat shield Thursday morning

NASA is testing an inflatable heat shield Thursday morning
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Artist's rendering of the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID).

Artist’s rendering of the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID).
illustration: OUR

The final flight of an Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California will launch an advanced weather satellite in addition to the heat shield experiment.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) mission and NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID) will begin Thursday, November 10 at 4 p.m. aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket launch: 25 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, according to NASA. If you are awake at this ungodly hour, you can follow the action NASA television or via the live feed provided below.

NASA Live: Official stream from NASA TV

JPSS-2 will join a fleet of satellites in sun-synchronous orbit from where it will collect data for global weather models by monitoring wildfires, measuring sea surface temperatures and detecting harmful algal blooms in the ocean. Scientists will use this data to create global weather forecasts and track extreme weather events.

When JPSS-2 separates from the rocket to reach its orbit, its companion payload will begin its journey back to Earth. That LOFTID heat shield will separate from the rocket’s upper stage after a deorbit burn. LOFTID will then inflate and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere to demonstrate its capabilities. The experiment aims to slow spacecraft, thereby protecting their payloads from the scorching temperatures caused by atmospheric re-entry – and not just Earth’s atmosphere but that of other planets as well.

NASA Low Earth Orbit flight test of an inflatable decelerator – LOFTID animation

“The technology could be further developed to support manned and large robotic missions to destinations such as Mars, Venus and Titan, and to return heavier payloads to Earth,” NASA said.

The launch of the Atlas 5 rocket was originally scheduled for November 1, but it was delayed due to a defective battery. On October 29, NASA announced that the Centaur’s upper stage battery needed replacing and the rocket was turned off for launch five days later.

This will be NASA’s 23rd launch on an Atlas 5 rocket, but the last time the space agency will use ULA’s Atlas 5 for its launch Start the service program (commercial launches of unmanned missions). In his place, ULA hopes to make his upcoming debut Volcanic Centaur Missile until early next year.

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