RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Virginia’s Eastern Shore has been an active spot this morning at the NASA Wallops Flight Test Facility since about 1 a.m. EDT Monday, July 23, as NASA scientists and support staff prepared to launch a three-stage Black Brant XI sounding rocket carrying new heat shield technology called IRVE-3 (Third Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment).
Smaller sounding rockets are also being launched, book-ending the IRVE-3 to sample the atmosphere before and after the big launch. The big sounding rocket launched at approximately 7:01 a.m. EDT from Wallops, reaching speeds as high as 7,600 mph (hypersonic). The launch and re-entry were deemed a success by NASA. CLICK HERE to read the official summary of the test today.
Watch the launch and IRVE-3 deployment here:
"It's great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator," said James Reuther, deputy director of NASA's Space Technology Program. "This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space."
Watch this NASA video simulation of what happens with today's launch and re-entry:
CLICK HERE to learn more about the IRVE-3 program.
The IRVE-3 is the Third Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, which has inflatable material that must withstand temperatures as high as 1850 degrees Fahrenheit upon re-entry (to Earth, or perhaps other planets in the future, like Mars). The launch from Wallops today carries the IRVE-3 280 miles above ground, with the total trip from launch to splash-down in the Atlantic Ocean east of Virginia of just 20 minutes.
Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program, says, "As we investigate new ways to bring cargo back to Earth from the International Space Station and innovative ways to land larger payloads safely on Mars, it's clear we need to invest in new technologies that will enable these goals. IRVE-3 is precisely the sort of cross-cutting technology NASA's Space Technology Program should mature to make these future NASA and commercial space endeavors possible."
About 50 people have been working on this NASA project for more than three years.
Watch some of these mission members celebrating after the successful launch and deployment:
"We originally came up with this concept because we'd like to be able to land more mass and access higher altitudes on Mars," said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "To do so you need more drag. We're seeking to maximize the drag area of the entry system. We want to make it as big as we can. The limitation with current technology has been the launch vehicle diameter."
"A team of NASA engineers and technicians spent the last three years preparing for the IRVE-3 flight," said Lesa Roe, director of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. "We are pushing the boundaries with this flight. We look forward to future test launches of even bigger inflatable aeroshells."