Press Release

Advanced Space Transportation Media Update

By SpaceRef Editor
March 1, 2000
Filed under

Experiment could lead to spacecraft design breakthrough
An experiment that could lead to a breakthrough in the design of space
vehicles successfully completed its final design review in February and is
planned for flight demonstration in June. The flight experiment will test
ultra-high temperature ceramic material that could radically improve thermal
protection of spacecraft through the extreme heat of reentry into Earth’s
atmosphere. The Slender Hypervelocity Aerothermodynamic Research Probe – or
SHARP B2 – is one of the
Future-X flight experiments selected by NASA to help mold the future of
space transportation. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
Ala., manages the Future-X Program. The SHARP B2 experiment is led by
NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

Ultra-high temperature ceramic material could make it possible for space
vehicles to have sharp leading edges, instead of the blunt body design
common to today’s spacecraft. Engineers routinely design spacecraft with
blunt leading edges that create a region of compressed air in front of the
vehicle as it travels faster than the speed of sound. This region absorbs
much of the heat associated with a spacecraft’s reentry into Earth’s
atmosphere and keeps the vehicle’s edges from overheating. Blunt body
vehicles, however, are inefficient and have high drag, or friction, as they
fly – resulting in large, expensive propulsion systems. The ceramic
material the Ames Center will test in flight could substantially lower the
cost of boosting objects to space. A modified Mk12A reentry vehicle –
basically an aerodynamic nose cone – with four sharp leading edges will be
lofted into space aboard a U.S. Air Force Minuteman III launch vehicle and
will make a high-speed reentry into the atmosphere to test the ceramic
material. Following reentry, the vehicle will deploy a drag chute and be
recovered from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The launch is scheduled
June 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.


Note to Editors: The Advanced Space Transportation Media Update is a regular
progress report to keep you informed about technology development activity
at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. As NASA’s Lead
Center for Space Transportation Systems Development, Marshall is pushing
technologies that will dramatically increase the safety and reliability and
reduce the cost of space transportation. Interviews and materials
supporting this Media Update are available to media representatives by
contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256)
544-0034. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more
information, visit Marshall’s News Center on the Web at:
For more information on Marshall’s space transportation activities, visit:

Marshall Space Flight Center

Media Relations Department

(256) 544-0034

(256) 544-5852 (fax)

SpaceRef staff editor.