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Ablators - From Apollo to Future Missions to Moon, Mars and BeyondApollo was designed to carry astronauts safely back from the Moon at return speeds exceeding 11 km/s and requireddevelopment of a new ablative thermal protection system (TPS) to protect the capsule from entry heating. Mercuryand Gemini, that preceded Apollo, were focused on Earth orbiting system demonstration and lessons learned fromthem were used in Apollo. The ablative material and associated system development for Lunar return conditionsrequired considerable ground and flight testing. Mars Viking Lander missions required a new lighter weight ablatoras entry heating was benign compared to Apollo. Pioneer-Venus and Galileo Probe missions required a new and morecapable ablator than Apollo. After two decades, Mars Pathfinder followed by Mars Exploration Rover missions,smaller than Viking but more demanding, were able to use Viking ablative TPS. At the same time, advances in manufacturing and materials technology led to development of innovative lightweight ablators. These new ablators enabled Stardust and Genesis Sample Return Missions. Around the turn of this century, NASA decided on a scaled-upversion of the Apollo capsule for human exploration of Moon and Mars and the ablative heat shield to protect the CrewExploration Vehicle ended up being the Apollo ablative TPS. The Artemis 1 mission is currently fitted with tiledsystem, different than Orion EFT-1 but with the Apollo ablative material as a result of lessons learned. NASA iscurrently planning on sample return missions from Mars, and this will require robust ablative TPS that can providehigher reliability than any other past mission. There are still unexplored high scientific value destinations in the solarsystem. In situ exploration of Uranus, Neptune, Saturn and sample return missions with return speed much higher thanStardust will require ablators capable of withstanding extreme entry that are also efficient. New ablative TPS havebeen developed in anticipation of these future missions. This paper is intended to tell the story of these ablators,illustrated through examples. We see the use of flight proven ablators was sometimes a risky proposition and newablators perceived to be higher risk have proved otherwise. The history of ablators illustrates the challenges eachmission had to address, either through the use of flight proven or new ablative TPS, to be successful.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Ames Research Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Venkatapathy, Ethiraj
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
October 23, 2019
Publication Date
October 21, 2019
Subject Category
Spacecraft Design, Testing And Performance
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: International Astronautical Congress
Location: Washington, D. C.
Country: United States
Start Date: October 21, 2019
End Date: October 25, 2019
Sponsors: Lockheed Martin
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Technical Review
NASA Peer Committee
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