Next generation aero-decelerator heat shields for Mars entry vehicles

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Aeronautics


Spacecraft landing on Mars require protective heatshields to withstand the high heating experienced during atmospheric entry. Mechanically deployable aero-decelerators are a novel type of heatshield that can land significantly larger payloads on Mars than are possible at the present time. Such concepts fold up to fit inside launch vehicles, and deploy when in space, like an umbrella, to a much larger area. Although various concepts have been studied in recent years, the technology is still considered immature and underexplored, so has not yet flown in space.

The objectives of this research project are:
- To assess potential mechanically deployable aero-decelerator configurations and their performance during atmospheric entry at Mars.
- To numerically optimise the candidate configurations to determine the lowest mass, most robust and highest performance designs.
- To advance the technology readiness level of mechanically deployable aero-decelerator for Mars applications through test campaigns.
The novel physics and methodology used in the research project include:
- Development of a novel coupled aero-structural 6 degree-of-freedom simulator to analyse the aerodynamics of the deployable heatshield at every point along the entry trajectory.
- Use of the Modified Newtonian method combined with Euler-Bernoulli beam modelling of the deployable ribs to calculate the deformation experienced when under aerodynamic loading.
- Testing of the simulation assumptions via development of a lab-scale test rig for deployment and flexure testing.
- Validation of the coupled simulator through a high-speed wind tunnel test campaign using Imperial's supersonic wind tunnel to replicate Martian entry conditions.
This methodology will allow the following research questions to be answered:
- How do deployable structures deform when under high speed aerodynamic loading in the Martian atmosphere?
- What are the effects of flexible deployable structures on Mars entry trajectories?
- How does the attitude stability of the entry vehicle change when flexible deployable structures are used?
- What are the optimal configurations for mechanically deployable aero-decelerators?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509486/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2022
2368114 Studentship EP/N509486/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021 Lisa Joanna Peacocke