European space company Astrium and Russia's space agency Rosaviacosmos have signed an agreement to cooperate in the development of inflatable re-entry and descent technology (IRDT).
Astrium will have exclusive contact with the Babakin Science and Research Centre in this new technology, which offers "significant advantages" in a wide range of low-cost, return-from-orbit applications, including the return of cargo from the International Space Station and even re-usable rocket stages back to Earth. The companies are also looking at applications in space exploration. Armand Carlier, chief executive of Astrium, says "the combination of Astrium's expertise with our Russian partners bears the potential for planetary missions".
The lightweight IRDT is a folded system that is inflated in orbit to resemble a re-entry capsule, in which the payload is placed, and descends at low speed into the atmosphere, reducing the re-entry temperatures. At 20km (66,000ft), the IRDT inflates further, enlarging the surface so that it acts as a landing parachute. The IRDT was originally developed for a Mars 1996 mission which failed to make it into space but the technology was demonstrated successfully in Earth orbit in February 2000.
Astrium also announced that the contract for the Skynet 5 military communications satellite system is not likely to be awarded until early 2002 rather than November 2001 as planned originally. Astrium is part of the Paradigm consortium which submitted its bid earlier this year, in competition with a team led by Lockheed Martin.
Source: Flight Daily News