2.65-M Modular Aeroshell Production

Ablatives Lab

Challenge

For NASA's Langley Research Center, ARA's Ablatives Laboratory (ABL) produced a large heatshield/aeroshell that incorporates new manufacturing technology for honeycomb-packed charring ablator systems. The heatshield was produced "modularly" and consists of nine individually molded and precision-milled modules: one nose unit and eight flank units. Large-scale 5-axis CNC milling is the critical component of this new technology. High-tolerance shaped molds and finished modules – all 5-axis milled – are required for the new manufacturing approach to work. ABL's completed unit is NASA's first modular, heatshield system made from this class of honeycomb-reinforced ablator. The new processing is tailored to NASA's large suite of polymeric charring ablator materials. ABL's heatshield/aeroshell is a manufacturing development and demonstration unit (MDU) that will not be flown, but will be subjected to ground testing. Below are photos that show large heatshield/aeroshell components and sequences.

Solution

This new manufacturing technology is important to NASA for its planned, very large heatshields of future Mars exploration. Ablator honeycomb-packing using NASA's existing suite of materials is a labor intensive, time-consuming process that does not lend itself well to such large heatshield systems when monolithically-produced. Polymeric resins used in these ablators have limited pot-lives that necessitate prompt and efficient packing. And very large monolithic systems pose technician interference problems due to the large number of technicians needed for packing. The modular production approach demonstrated by the Ablatives Laboratory eliminates these and many other problems of heatshield/aeroshell production for the increased scale of Mars exploration flight systems.

Molded Flank Panel – H/C Reinforced Ablator
Molded Flank Panel – H/C Reinforced Ablator
Preliminary Fit Check of Flank Panel to Structure
Preliminary Fit Check of Flank Panel to Structure
5-Axis Interior Milling Step – Molded Flank Panel
5-Axis Interior Milling Step – Molded Flank Panel
Bonding TPS Nose Module with Film Adhesive
Bonding TPS Nose Module with Film Adhesive
Bonding One of Eight TPS Flank Modules
Bonding One of Eight TPS Flank Modules
Assembled 2.65-m Heatshield with Gap Spacers
Assembled 2.65-m Heatshield with Gap Spacers
Vacuum-Bagged Aeroshell in Oven for Bond Cure
Vacuum-Bagged Aeroshell in Oven for Bond Cure
Ready for Final 5-Axis Milling – Gap Filler Cured
Ready for Final 5-Axis Milling – Gap Filler Cured
Final-Milled Aeroshell on ABL's Large 5-Axis CNC Machine
Final-Milled Aeroshell on ABL's Large 5-Axis CNC Machine
Lifting Aeroshell from Milling Machine to Shipping Container
Lifting Aeroshell from Milling Machine to Shipping Container

Thermal Protection Technology and Engineering

Thermal Protection Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing

ARA’s Ablatives Laboratory is a NASA-dedicated facility focused on technology advancements for thermal protection systems (TPS) such as planetary... more

Ablatives Lab

Ablatives Laboratory

Research, development and manufacturing of ablative heatshields and thermal protection systems for entry and launch vehicles, and missile systems... more