LOFTID – NASA’s new heat shield

November 12, 2022
November 12, 2022 Hal Jordan

LOFTID – NASA’s new heat shield

The “Bernard Kutter Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator” (LOFTID), was a NASA demonstration of what’s called a cross-cutting aeroshell. The aeroshell addresses a problem with atmospheric reentry. The diameter of a standard heat shield is limited by the diameter of the shroud atop the rocket. For reentry of a heavy payload, you would need a large diameter heat shield, and a large diameter rocket shroud which would be difficult to send into orbit.

A standard size heat shield is not large enough to slow down a heavy payload in the thin atmosphere of Mars, so a larger diameter heat shield is needed. The LOFTID aeroshell, also known as a Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, consists of pressurized concentric rings strapped together to form a single structure. The rings are made of braided synthetic fiber 15 times stronger than steel. The structure is a little more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide and 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) high when it’s uninflated and folded, and 19.7 feet (6 meters) in diameter when inflated. It can withstand a reentry temperature of 2900°F (1600°C).

LOFTID was launched on an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, at 0149 Pacific time on 10 November 2022. Shortly after launch, it was deployed. Roughly two hours after launch, LOFTID splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. A recovery vessel retrieved the heat shield and the backup data recorder and made its way back to port.

The test was successful, so this type of heat shield can be used on missions. An additional benefit to NASA is that about a dozen companies have contacted NASA to express their interest in this technology, including United Launch Alliance, the makers of the Atlas V rocket that launched LOFTID.

Up to now, NASA has been using the same heat shield technology that they were using in 1958 when they first began. This development is truly one giant leap for mankind.


LOFTID Fact Sheet June 2019
LOFTID: NASA just tested an inflatable heatshield for planetary exploration in orbit
LOFTID splashdown
Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID)
NASA Launched and Landed LOFTID, an Inflatable Flying Saucer Heat Shield
See NASA’s inflatable heat shield demo get deployed in space for re-entry test


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The United Federation Starfleet Blog is written by Captain Hal Jordan and is published every Friday. Join in the discussion! Engage with us on Discord at:


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