$47M Awarded for Work on Aerodynamic Decelerators

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Three companies will split up to $47 million in NASA funds over the next five years for work on inflatable aerodynamic decelerators — possible components of future entry, descent and landing systems for crewed and uncrewed spacecraft.

The cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity task order contracts were announced Dec. 22 in a NASA press release.

The work includes design, analysis, fabrication and testing. Spacecraft equipped with lightweight aerodynamic decelerators would be able to carry a greater payload mass than craft that relied on bulkier systems, NASA said.

Awardees are Airborne Systems North America of Santa Ana, Calif.; ILC Dover of Frederica, Del.; and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver. Airborne Systems made the space shuttle’s parachute brake and is supplying chutes for spacecraft including Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Dragon capsule and the Orion capsule Lockheed Martin is building for NASA. ILC Dover made the airbag landing systems for NASA’s 1996 Mars Pathfinder mission and the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers that have been exploring the red planet since 2003.

Included in the award announced Dec. 22 is work on NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, a project overseen by the agency’s Space Technology division. The system’s technology readiness level, an indicator of whether a system is suitable for use on NASA missions, is still very low. Nevertheless, the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator has been cited as a possible means of slowing down very large payloads — such as new robotic rovers or manned spacecraft — that are headed to the surface of Mars.