UK researchers successfully launch space capsule experiment

Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 5:14 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - During the summer of 2020 a team of students and scientists with the University of Kentucky developed capsules with experimental thermal protection systems, also known as heat shields, that were sent into space.

These capsules were then recently sent back to Earth to test these shields as they traveled 20 times the speed of sound through the atmosphere. Their goal is to help make heat shields more efficient, lighter, and customizable to fit any scenario.

“The other one is that there are environments that are extremely different. For instance, we have a good idea how to do that on Earth but a different planet will necessitate different heat shields,” said Dr. Alexandre Martin, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor.

With this mission UK also made some history. Not only was it the first 3D printed heat shield to fly on an entry mission, but it’s the first university-built capsule to reach hypersonic speeds while also successfully transiting a planetary atmosphere.

“You want to be able to as you print it, you change the property along the way, so you can better redirect heat, you can have hit spots at certain places where you would like them to or not then,” Dr. Martin said.

While this initial test was a major success, the data provided through this mission will help them develop more tests to further improve this technology for future missions as well.

“We can go back and try to reconstruct what’s happened, which is not trivial because things are exploding left and right and then we’re going to be able to use that and reproduce what happened with the capsule with our numerical model,” Dr. Martin said.

This mission has also been a big part to the university’s new aerospace program. It just recently launched with the first graduate this year.

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