A spinning heat shield to lower their cost and weight

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Link here. Key quote:

Made of a flexible, strong and heat-resistant material that folds down when not in use, his shield automatically starts spinning like a samara-type tree seed when exposed to the onrush of air that a spacecraft would experience when dropping through a planet’s atmosphere.

As it spins, centrifugal force causes its skirt-like sides to flare out and stiffen. This creates the drag needed to help slow the descent, while also providing a large protective surface for the dissipation of heat. No additional machinery, other than the shield itself, is required for its deployment.

“Since this prototype is lightweight and flexible enough for use on smaller satellites, research could be made easier and cheaper,” says Wu. “The heat shield would also help save cost in recovery missions, as its high induced drag reduces the amount of fuel burned upon re-entry.”

More details here. Very clever. It needs to be tested to see if it can work.



  • Phill O

    Interesting concept!

  • Perhaps an underappreciated corollary of cheap(er) launchers and increased orbital access is the scrutiny of every aspect of navigating orbital space. Sci-fi the blueprint: capitalism the engine.

  • Mike Borden

    In my opinion. More moving parts=higher risk of failure.

  • Jwing

    My first thought was how baby spiders travel in the wind on a single retractable strand of light-weight, high tensile strength silk.
    Maybe a strand-a-chute could replace a parachute??
    Out of the box thinking!

  • pzatchok

    But how do you keep the very high speed spin from being imparted to the craft?

    High mass craft will fly apart or at least break.

    I could see this being useful for small sat sized craft under 10 LB’s. Basically a good solid sensor pack injected into a planets atmosphere in hopes it can slow down enough to land still working.

  • Edward


    Because the heat shield flares out, like the skirt of a spinning figure skater, the spin does not have to be large in order to hold open the shield. The forces are directly proportional to the diameter of the flared shield and are proportional to the square of the spin speed. The intention is for the shield to make itself significantly larger than the craft that it is protecting, allowing for larger forces holding it open than the forces on the lander’s parts. Some of the deployable parts of the lander may need to be held better than for a non-spinning reentry, but that should be possible. It may be possible to make the lander a de-spun section, allowing for this shield to be used on manned missions.

    What amazes me most on this topic is that the heat shield is designed as a flexible item. This is the first time that I have heard of a flexible reentry heat shield.

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