NASA KY EPSCoR KRUPS: ISS Flight for Heat Shield Testing

Grants and Contracts Details


The design of an efficient Thermal Protection System (TPS) remains one of the most challenging tasks of planetary exploration missions. Because of the harshness of atmospheric entry environments, no ground facility can exactly replicate all of the conditions. Consequently, engineers must rely on numerical models to design TPS. Over the last few years, significant improvements have been made on the ability to numerically predict flight environment and the associated material response. However, to increase confidence on these models, it is important to compare them to actual fight data. There are limited flight data available to inform TPS performance: Apollo 4, Apollo 6, FIRE-II, MER, MSL, and, very recently, Orion EFT-1. Not only were these flights part of elaborate and costly flight programs, but the TPS tested on them were at the final stage of design. Therefore, there is a need to provide a low-cost test-bed to quickly and reliably screen TPS materials. To that point, Thermal Protection System research is a topic of great interest to NASA, and Entry systems is currently listed as one of the main Technology Area (TA 9.1) of the 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps. Over the last few years, NASA has started the development of several of small capsules, of various sizes, for various purposes. For instance, the REBR capsule (Aerospace Corp./NASA Ames) was designed to record re-entry breakup patterns for large orbital debris entering the atmosphere. REBR flew on several missions, with successful results on the great majority of them. Building on that, the Maraia capsule (NASA Jonhson Space Center (JSC)) was designed with the purpose of providing a quick payload return option for the ISS. At the same time, both the Red-DATA (TVA/NASA JSC) and the SPRITE capsule (NASA Ames Research Center (Ames)) were intended to test heat shield materials in flight conditions. Inspired by these designs, the Kentucky Re-entry Universal Payload System (KRUPS) capsule was developed at the University of Kentucky as a cost-efficient atmospheric entry experiment testbed. Although KRUPS could be used to test several di.erent experiments, the current incarnation aims at providing a test-bed for TPS testing. The design of KRUPS has been ongoing for the last 5 years, starting from conceptual design to baseline qualifications. As a technology maturation step, two KRUPS spacecraft were recently ejected from two separate sub-orbital sounding rockets at altitudes of 150 km and 175 km, respectively. The capsules were instrumented so that the thermal behavior of the heat shield would be monitored during reentry. In order to fully assess the capability of the KRUPS capsule to be used for TPS testing, it is imperative that the whole system be tested at orbital velocity. The most cost-e.ective method to do so is to perform entry from the ISS. The proposed project therefore aims at de-orbiting a KRUPS capsule from the ISS, and transmit the measured TPS performance data to the Iridium satellite as the capsule enters the atmosphere. The Concept of Operation of this mission is illustrated in Fig. 1. After completion of this flight, it is expected that the capsule will have risen to a TRL of 7.
Effective start/end date1/1/1912/31/21


  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $100,000.00


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