[ILC Dover] Frederica, Del., U.S.A.
Research continues in the Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE) project, using the technology to bring spacecraft safely back to earth. The inflatable structure is made of lightweight, high-temperature ceramic fabric—a material that is generally very fragile. Cliff Willey, program manager of space inflatables for ILC Dover, says the fabric must be sturdy enough to be folded and packed in the spacecraft, then quickly deployed while in space. “A lot of materials tested just crumbled,” he says. “We’re looking at developing much more advanced thermal protection materials that will be a benefit for other uses afterwards.” IRVE completed its first successful demonstration in August of 2009. NASA is targeting Mars missions in the next five years.