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Flight Performance of theInflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment 310th International Planetary Probe WorkshopJune 21, 2013Robert Dillman1, John DiNonno1, Richard Bodkin1, Valerie Gsell2, Nathanael Miller1, Aaron Olds3, and Walt Bruce11: NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA2: NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA3: Analytical Mechanics Associates, Hampton, [email protected]

Irve 3 mission events
IRVE-3 Mission Events


364s, 469km

Start Aeroshell Inflation

436s, 448km (86s to 52KPa [7.5psi])

(186s to 138KPa [20psi])


Actuate CG offset system

628s, 127km (1s duration)

Eject Nose Cone

102s, 176km

ACS Reorientation

587s, 260km (40s duration)

NIACS damps rates

91s (10s duration)

Atmospheric Interface, 25Pa (664s, 85km)

Separate RV & Nose Cone

From Brant & Transition

90s, 148km

RV Peak Heat Rate 14.4W/cm2

678s, 50km, Mach 7 (peak Mach 9.8)

RV Peak Dynamic Pressure 6.0KPa

683s, 40km, 20.2g’s

Yo-Yo De-Spin, 80s

Brant Burnout, 56.9s

Brant Ignition, 23.0s

Taurus Separation 21.0s

Taurus Burnout, 18.5s

Taurus Ignition, 15.0s

Talos Burnout, 6.4s

Spin Motor Ignition, 0.9s

Leaves Rail, 0.5s

Talos Ignition, 0s

Launch on Black Brant-XI from WFF

940lb payload, El 84deg, Az 155deg

Reentry Experiment Complete at Mach < 0.7 (707s, 28km)

Bonus CG Offset Maneuvers

LOS by land radar & TM

910s, 10.5km

Vent NIACS and Inflation System Gas

RV splashdown at 30m/s

1194s (447km downrange)

Recovery Attempt - Unsuccessful


Mission objectives results
Mission Objectives (Results)

IRVE-3, 7/23/12

  • Demonstrate reentry survivability of an inflatable with flight relevant heating. (Saw peak heat flux 14.4W/cm2, peak deceleration 20.2G’s.)

  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of a movable CG on the flight L/D of an inflatable. (Reentered with L/D=.17, lift up. Shifted to lift down after reentry; inflatable essentially acted as a rigid body.)

    IRVE-II, 8/17/09

    • Flight demonstration of inflation and reentry survivability. (Inflation system held pressure in RV. RV stable in hyper/super/trans/subsonic flight.)

    • Assess thermal and drag performance of an inflatable RV. (Worked as planned.)

    • Collect flight data for comparison with analysis &design. (Worked as planned.)

      IRVE (a.k.a. IRVE-I), 9/6/07

    • Same objectives that were re-used on IRVE-II.

    • Launch vehicle failed to release payload. (IRVE-II build-to-print re-flight)

    • Demonstrated could pack and deploy inflatable structure, flexible TPS with negligible damage to the materials.


Irve 3 reentry vehicle




IRVE-3 Reentry Vehicle

  • 3m [118”] diam inflatable aeroshell with flexible TPS on forward surface

  • Centerbody houses inflation system, CG offset mechanism, telemetry module, power system (batteries), ACS, cameras

  • Inflatable aeroshell packs to 18.5” diam inside nose cone for launch

  • Restraint cover holds aeroshell packed for launch; pyrotechnic release

  • Inflation system fills aeroshell from 3000psi Nitrogen tank

  • Attitude control system uses cold Argon thrusters to reorient for entry

  • CG Offset mechanism allows evaluation of inflatable aeroshell L/D

  • RV entry mass 281kg

Stowed (18.5”)







18.5” diam


Deployed (3m [118”] diam)


TPS Layup


TM & Power


CG Offset System

Inflation System


Aeroheating and

Dynamic Pressure

22” diam



Flexible TPS


Irve ii upgrades to irve 3
IRVE-II upgrades to IRVE-3

  • Same: stacked torus structure, 3m diameter, 60° cone angle

  • Total redesign of inflatable structure (ILCHDT/Airborne); more robust (3.520 psi); lower leak rate

  • Upgraded TPS:

    • IRVE-II was demo of inflation & viability, negligible heating, no TPS insulation

    • IRVE-3 upgraded to a flight-relevant layup, Nextel over Pyrogel

  • Replaced Teflon nose with TPS-covered aluminum one

    • Nose instrumentation was not folded during packing, more sensors viable

    • Sharpened nose radius, to raise stagnation heat flux on TPS

  • Increased instrumentation: Added 5 heat flux gauges & pressure ports centered on stag pt; added IMU & GPS; more thermocouples; 4 cameras for 360° view

  • Improved inflation system: Used metering valve that closed when inflatable was full, instead of dumping gas overboard through pressure relief valves

  • Larger sounding rocket produced higher apogee (218469km)

  • More hardware in larger centerbody (10.7522in), with same diameter aeroshell, raised ballistic coefficient 12.526.9kg/m2, raised heat flux 2.214.4W/cm2, G’s 8.520.2


Packing the irve 3 aeroshell
Packing the IRVE-3 Aeroshell

  • Aeroshell attached to inflation system skin, then packed

  • NC-machined cap attached to nosecone air spring

    • Helps support aeroshell during launch, pushes nosecone clear in flight

  • Volume allocated inside LV nosecone: 7966in3

  • Final volume used (laser scan): 5994in3

  • Final packed density 39lb/ft3


Surprise pothole in the sky
Surprise: Pothole in the Sky

  • At 46km, deceleration dropped from 16 to 14.5G’s for 100ms.

  • Registered at same time on multiple sensors.

  • Best explanation: 11% local drop in density. (Such drops are not in GRAM, but have been seen before in Shuttle reentry flights.)

  • Structural engineer used data to verify modal vibration frequencies


Irve 3 tps temperatures
IRVE-3 TPS Temperatures

  • Thermocouple stacks in TPS showed expected heating trends

  • Lower peak values than expected; maximum temperature reading was 387C

  • Heat flux measurements agreed with trajectory reconstruction

  • Large (0.063in) thermocouple size gave slow response; missed peak temps

  • Thermocouple beads were not in good thermal contact with low-density TPS


Irve 3 centerbody temperatures
IRVE-3 Centerbody Temperatures

  • Outer surfaces warmed to 150C during launch, then cooled

  • Camera deck was covered during launch, then heated to 50C from electrical power & weak entry heating

  • Inflation system structure stayed at room temperature throughout flight (protected by TPS, and position down in entry cone)



Irve 3 recovery attempt
IRVE-3 Recovery Attempt

  • RV splashdown 1.8s long, ~50 miles beyond nominal

  • Radar track provided latitude/longitude for recovery

  • Surveillance aircraft found object in water ~1 mile from predicted location; had 1hr loiter fuel after splashdown

  • Recovery boat needed ~2hrs to reach splashdown location

  • Debris from damaged fishing boat; not our hardware.

Aircraft Surveillance

View from Recovery Boat


The future
The Future

  • IRVE-3 showed an inflatable aeroshell can handle a flight-relevant reentry environment, and that an offset CG can be used to steer an inflatable.

  • Future flights will hopefully demonstrate the increased capabilities that the HIAD project has developed in parallel with IRVE-3. TPS capabilities are now more than 3x higher than what IRVE-3 used.

  • Several proposals exist for HIAD demonstrations from Earth orbit, which will hopefully pave the way to eventual flight use.



  • Many thanks to the entire IRVE-3 team and all those who supported us for their long hours and dedication.


For more information
For More Information

  • IRVE-3 Post-Flight Analysis Review, NASA Langley Research Center, March 2013.

  • Dillman R. A., Hughes S. J., Bodkin R. J., Bose D. M., Del Corso J., and Cheatwood F. M., Flight Performance of the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment II, 7th International Planetary Probe Workshop, Barcelona, Spain, June 2010.

  • Dillman R. A., Gsell V. T., and Bowden E. L., Attitude Control Performance of IRVE-3 (AAS 13-077), 36th Annual AAS Guidance & Control Conference, Breckenridge, Colorado, February 2013.

  • Olds A. D., Beck R. E., Bose D. M., White J. P., Edquist K. T., Hollis B. R., Lindell M. C., Cheatwood F. M., Gsell V. T., and Bowden E. L., IRVE-3 Post-Flight Reconstruction (AIAA 2013-1390), 22nd AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technology Conference, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 2013.

  • Findlay J. T., Kelly G. M., and Troutman P. A., FINAL REPORT: Shuttle Derived Atmospheric Density Model (NASA CR-171824), December 1984.

  • Hughes S. J., Cheatwood F. M., Calomino A. M., Wright H. S., Wusk M. E., and Hughes M. F., Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Technology Development Overview, 10th International Planetary Probe Workshop, San Jose, California, June 2013.