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NASA Launches Rocket Carrying Inflatable Heat-Shield Technology

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Photo of the Black Brant XI. (credit: NASA)

Photo of the Black Brant XI. (credit: NASA)

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ATLANTIC, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — NASA says the Virginia launch of a rocket carrying an inflatable heat shield was a success after surviving a short trip through the earth’s atmosphere at speeds of up to 7,600 mph.

The technology demonstration launch occurred Monday at the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The agency says the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment separated from the launch vehicle’s nose cone about 280 miles over the Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina after a 20-minute flight. A high-speed Navy Stiletto boat is attempting to retrieve the 680-pound heat shield.

“It’s great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator,” James Reuther, deputy director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, said in a press release. “This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space.”

The purpose of the launch was to determine whether a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during a planetary entry and descent.

“A team of NASA engineers and technicians spent the last three years preparing for the IRVE-3 flight,” Lesa Roe, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., said in the press release. “We are pushing the boundaries with this flight. We look forward to future test launches of even bigger inflatable aeroshells.”

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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