NASA Awards UK's Martin $500,000 for Orion Heat Shield Research

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2015) — A $500,000 Early Stage Innovations award from NASA will allow Alexandre Martin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky, to improve the software and thermal property models of the Orion spacecraft's heat shield.

Martin's project is one of only 15 university-led proposals selected by NASA for the study of innovative technologies that address the space program's high priority needs.

Analyzing data from Orion's first flight, Martin and his co-investigator from the University of Illinois will update the material models used for designing the AVCOAT thermal protection system, which protects the spacecraft from high temperatures during atmospheric reentry.

"EFT-1 (Orion's first test flight) provided a set of unique experimental data, and current numerical models fail to replicate them," Martin said.

New models will help to design a new generation of heat shields. In Orion's first flight, the heat shield was based on technologies used during the Apollo era.

"The next flight, EM-1, will use a newer version of it, but there is still much to do to ensure that the new generation of heat shield materials are used on future manned spacecrafts," Martin said.

Orion is NASA's new exploration vehicle, designed for manned missions to Mars and other destinations in deep space. It made its first test flight on Dec. 5 last year.

This is Martin's second Early Stage Innovations award from NASA, receiving it last year for research on the gas-surface interactions of heat shield material. This year's award builds on previous work supported by NASA Kentucky.

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