NASA's Revolutionary LOFTID Heat Shield Completes Successful Splashdown

NASA have successfully conducted a test of its LOFTID heat shield while launching the third in a series of polar-orbiting weather satellites on 10 November 2022. The launch was undertaken via a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator, or LOFTID, is a test of inflatable heat shield technology that could one day help land astronauts on Mars. The LOFTID heat shield autonomously inflated and re-entered Earth's atmosphere, splashing down about 500 miles off the coast of Hawaii just over two hours and ten minutes after launch. Inflatable heat shields – also known as aeroshells – could enable NASA to land heavier payloads on worlds like Mars, Venus, and Saturn's moon Titan as well as returning large components and samples to Earth. Inflatable aeroshells are not limited by the diameter of a launch vehicle fairing, so they can be made much larger than conventional rigid aeroshells. This allows them to slow heavier payloads for atmospheric entry – such as the many tons of equipment required for crewed missions to Mars.