This test is part of a series in support of NASA’s In-Space Propulsion Technologies (ISPT) program. An aeroshell allows a spacecraft to use friction from a planet’s or moon’s atmosphere as a braking force—allowing the probe to carry less fuel (for braking rockets) and permitting that now-available space and mass to be used for mission-relevant sensors and experimental modules.

Applied Research Associates (ARA) Ablative Laboratory is under contract to NASA to develop and test materials for the ISPT program. The test shown in the video took place at the National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF) in March 2011. The first aeroshell test was performed in October 2007, with other aeroshell tests in between. Before the October 2007 test, Sandia also conducted several smaller tests—from a 5″-diameter sample, to 12″ × 12″ and then 24″ × 24″ -square samples. NASA funding to the NSTTF over the years has been in excess of $500K.

ARA has implemented a number of changes in their ablative materials based on the testing performed at the NSTTF.