Oak Ridge scientists create first-of-its-kind heat shield for International Space Station mission


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A research team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has created the first 3D-printed thermal protection shield heading into space. The shield will go on a capsule with the Cygnus cargo spacecraft headed to the International Space Station as a part of a supply mission.

The scientists worked with NASA to develop materials able to withstand the extreme temperatures encountered when reentering the atmosphere. The shield protects a basketball-sized capsule that was developed by the University of Kentucky as a test for new entry system technologies.

“This is an opportunity to gain flight experience on new materials,” ORNL’s Greg Larsen said. “Additive manufacturing enables automated, rapid production and opens up new design opportunities for using lightweight materials in spacecraft.”

The capsule is anticipated to return to earth before the end of 2021. It has sensors that will record and transmit data to monitor performance.

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