Technologies Opportunities Demonstrators Research










The overall need for demonstrators in entry/re-entry

Advances in Re-entry Systems and related technologies will facilitate the enhancement of scientific and commercial payloads outputs enabling for example:

• sample return from LEO/Moon/NEO/Mars,

• recovery and reutilisation of space hardware, as reusable launchers,

• recovery of equipment from the ISS or other low/medium flying platforms,

contributing to debris reduction and support space commercial exploitation enabling in space production products return to ground.

This would help Europe to acquire new capabilities in innovative technological areas, key for the worldwide reduction of space access costs.

Re-entry Systems begin when the on-orbit mission is completed and close with the recovery of the returned system after a safe return to Earth. It comprises the functions of de-orbiting propulsion, reaction control, precision de-orbiting, re-entry manoeuvring, thermal protection, deceleration, precise landing and recovery.

As extension of the concept, re-entry systems are also used in the frame of “entry” exploration of planets within the solar system where an atmosphere, different from Earth’s one, is present (e.g. Mars, Venus, etc.)

Additional distinguishing shall also be paid in case a probe (whether of entry or re-entry type) is under study for future applications in case of automatic (e.g. robotic) missions versus the case of manned missions. Examples of manned missions are currently under investigation by international Agencies such as NASA (Orion), Chinese Space Agency (Moon and LEO program), and commercial initiatives (CRS and Commercial Crew initiatives, mainly limited to LEO). It has to be noted the strategic importance of being able to master re-entry technologies, both in manned and unmanned versions, and either from LEO or higher energy level (e.g. from Moon / Mars / etc.).

Currently Europe is focusing attention on automatic probes towards Mars (e.g. Exomars, etc.), as well as re-entry automatic sample return capsule (e.g. from Mars or Phobos back to Earth). Initiatives of re-entry for larger systems are limited to LEO demonstrators such as EXPERT, IXV and their potential evolution e.g. ISV PRIDE.



Figure 1-3: On the left: Schiaparelli: the ExoMars Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module – artist view (credit: ESA), on the right: The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) mission artist view – credit: ESA/J. Huart

Therefore the harmonization of the efforts at European level becomes mandatory as well as strategic in order to develop and maintain technological independence of the re-entry field in view of the possibility to play as primary actors when next future ambitious exploration missions will be identified and agreed to be performed at global cooperation level among all world-wide space entities.

Development of these technologies is needed to open new European opportunities in the innovative commercialisation of space domain. Research and development of promising re-entry technologies (such as: reusable or deployable thermal shields, inflatable ablative shielding, decelerators, GNC, health management …) far beyond the current state of the art, is deemed necessary. A first objective is to foster incremental advances in the development of both technologies and systems, including advanced studies in the areas of new reusable concepts to reduce launch costs, architectures and associated advanced technologies. A second objective is to set up activities for promoting possible disruptive Research, Technology and Development in the field of reusable systems.

To assess the commercial viability of the re-entry technologies developed, it should be envisaged to study the impact of using them in re-entry vehicles that might be also used for IOD/IOV. To validate the re-entry systems to be developed at pre-commercial level, a qualification flight will have to be executed. This will serve as a validation for future mission implementation.

Outside Europe, JAXA needs for demonstration are relative to high speed re-entry and aerocapture. Sample return requires high-speed re-entry velocity up to 15 km/s. The long mission duration also exerts a strong pressure on the reliability of the return system. In order to realize such high-speed and long-term mission, the technologies to be demonstrated are the thermal protection material that could be validated under a high-enthalpy flow field that cannot be completely simulated through ground facilities; and the Crushable Landing Structure which allows non-parachute descending system and to be free from chute triggering system. Aerocapture technology is promising for saving fuel, which enlarges the possibilities of the future exploration missions. Nevertheless, the aerocapture manoeuvre requires of very sophisticated control technology including autonomous control. In order to reduce the related risks, the technological demonstrative flight is desirable.

Outside Europe, NASA’s investments in entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies are made in line with the Agency goals of expanding human presence out to Mars surface, and of increasing knowledge of the Solar System. The linkage between the goals and investments is though Design Reference Missions, as explained in the NASA Space Technology Roadmap (Technology Area 09).


NASA’s EDL technology developments will target the key performance characteristics of delivery/performance reliability, cost, delivered mass, landing site access, and landing precision. Reliability is manifested in the completeness and instrumentation of the tests and analyses of component technologies, such as thermal protection systems (TPS), deployable decelerators, landing hazard tolerance, and separation systems. Low cost is enabled by improved simulation and ground-to-flight extrapolation, and by incorporating high-G landed systems into mission architectures. Delivered mass can be increased or enabled through the use of aerocapture, more capable TPS for the more difficult environments presented by larger entry vehicles, larger drag devices applied at higher speeds, descent phase (supersonic) retropropulsion, and more efficient terminal descent propulsion. Landing site access can be increased through TPS that permits higher entry speeds (allowing a wider range of targets), increased altitude performance, and higher-precision descent and landing approaches, allowing a wider range of safe sites. Greater control authority also enables higher precision in the entry phase. Both precision landing and hazard avoidance are enabled by a combination of more advanced terrain sensing and algorithms with more capable terminal descent propulsion and guidance to divert the lander to the desired target. All of these technology solutions would benefit from demonstration by ground or flight testing, before planetary mission use.


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