Energy shields haven’t arrived just yet, but this magnetic heat shield could do nicely in the meantime. European researchers have created a magnetic field technology that can protect spacecraft from fiery atmospheric temperatures during reentry, and perhaps cut back on the need for traditional heat shields.
A superconducting coil would generate the magnetic field that envelops the spacecraft and protects its leading edge during reentry. Then comes the test: a Russian submarine-launched ballistic missile called the Volna would loft the experimental flight into suborbital trajectory, so that the test vehicle could dive back into the atmosphere at Mach 21.
The technology’s development is headed by Aerospace giant EADS Astrium, which has also tinkered with an orbital debris shroud and a gravity tractor to deflect killer asteroids. Both the German DLR space agency and the European Space Agency have also signed onto the project.
NASA has played with inflatable heat shield technology that could cut down the weight load for Earth or Mars missions. But the U.S. space agency would probably also join in our excitement over the impending debut of Europe’s magnetic variant.