A NASA Black Brant IX unmanned rocket will carry aloft an experimental inflatable spacecraft shell which the space agency hopes will aid in the landing of future larger spacecraft on other worlds.
On board the Black Brant IX will be the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE) which will test a new light weight material which will be inflated with nitrogen to grow from it's rocket packed 16 inches to 9 3/4-feet in size. If successful, the silicon-coated multi-layered Kevlar aeroshell IRVE will serve to protect a future spacecraft reentering a planet's atmosphere and bring it down to the surface safely.
"The whole flight will be over in less than twenty minutes," IRVE project manager Mary Beth Wusk stated recently. "We separate from the rocket ninety seconds after launch, and we begin inflation about three-and-a-half-minutes after that. Our critical data period after it inflates and re-enters through the atmosphere is only about 30 seconds long."
Scientists want to be able to land larger mass objects on other cestrial bodies such as Mars, and this test will help demonstrate the drag effect as it encounters a planet's atmosphere as it arrives from space.
"To land more mass you have to have more drag," IRVE's principal investigator Neil Cheatwood said recently. "We need to maximize the drag area of the entry system. We want to make it as big as we can, but the limitation has been the launch vehicle diameter."
The launch is sometime during a nearly four hour launch window which begins at 7:30 am EDT, tomorrow morning from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility launch pad 2 at Wallops Island, Va. Click Here to watch LIVE-TV of the launch day activities beginning at 6:30 AM EDT.
An exact launch time will be announced a half-hour or so prior to liftoff. Being a smaller lighter rocket, winds and exact weather is critical so that the Black Brant is not thrown off course.
Four minutes into launch and at an altitude of 131 statue miles, the 1,400 pound IRVE will begin it's mission as it descends out over the north Atlantic Ocean. Six on board video cameras will capture the inflation of the nearly ten foot shell and it's performance through rentry at T+7 minutes after launch.
Nineteen minutes into the mission, the vehicle is expected to splashdown about 102 miles down range from Wallops and sink, according to NASA officials this week.
The rocket flying this mission is not common to most, however it has become a work horse for the scientist and technicians preparing future planetary landers. Wallops also uses the Black Brants 9, 10, 11 & 12.
According to Wallops spokesperson Sandy Kleckner, "The Black Brant IX is a two-stage sounding rocket that consists of a Terrier 1st stage and a Black Brant 2nd stage. This vehicle is capable of carrying a payload of 800 pounds and a payload of 300 pounds."