NASA specifies Orion heatshield

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NASA Ames Research Center is purchasing SLA-561V, a thermal protection system (TPS) material, from the Orion crew vehicle prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems for use in developing the Orion capsule's re-entry heatshield.

Lockheed had previously specified SLA-561V as its preferred TPS material for the Block 1 low Earth orbit (LEO) Orion. The spaceships Block 1A and Block 1B versions are for missions to the International Space Station only. Block 2 Orion will go to the Moon.

Ames is leading the TPS advanced development project (ADP) for the new four- to six-astronaut vehicle. The SLA-561V material is being acquired for use in test articles and design and manufacturing demonstrations. Ames is aiming for a TPS preliminary design review in December 2007.

The heatshield on the Orion capsule will be a single 5m (16.3ft)-wide piece of ablative material. NASA wanted a TPS material with a technology-readiness level of six - one that has been demonstrated in a relevant environment - and SLA-561V was used on NASA's Stardust capsule, which captured cometary dust, as well as the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Exploration rovers.

The current first phase of the ADP research will test SLA-561V samples up to 58.4mm (2in) thick. The second phase will progress the design of the final integrated monolithic ablator heatshield.