In synchrony with The Martian‘s debut last weekend, NASA is pulling out all the stops to promote its Mars research. Today the agency released this image, taken during the testing of a heat shield that could one day help large spacecraft land on Mars.
The Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT) shield would pop open like an umbrella to help a landing spacecraft to slow down and keep cool while it’s streaking through a planet’s atmosphere. Made of carbon fiber supported by rigid ribs, the structure would conveniently stow away, compacted, on a spacecraft until needed.
NASA recently tested a miniature ADEPT device “under conditions akin to entering the Martian atmosphere.” Here, a 21-inch nozzle on the left blows hot air over the small vehicle. The temperature of the ADEPT model reached as high as 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit, in some places burning away a resin that protects the shield’s fabric joints—that’s where the blue color comes from.
NASA hasn’t published a lot of information about ADEPT, but the real thing would be at least 2 meters wide, and NASA says it could help to deliver larger payloads than Mars has ever seen. It seems ADEPT was originally intended to land on Venus carrying a 2,200-pound payload, which is about 200 pounds heavier than the SUV-sized Curiosity rover.