Ballutes Studied For Hypersonic Space Vehicles
Deployment: NASA has asked for a fresh look at using inflatable ballutes for aerocapturing around Earth spacecraft from the Moon.
Credit: Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Global Aerospace has been given NASA funding to study the use of ballutes in planetary atmospheric entry and descent, aerodynamic orbital capture, and aerodynamic gravity assist.

Ballutes (from BALLoon plus parachUTE) are basically large, inflatable devices that use atmospheric drag to decelerate spacecraft; they were invented by Goodyear Aerospace in 1958.

The company is developing the Hypersonic Control Modeling and Simulation Tool (HyperCMST). It will be used to study the problem of controlling the trajectory of different hypersonic space vehicles as they maneuver close to planets and satellites with substantial atmospheres.

HyperCMST will be used to develop a new type of ballute called a lifting-towed-toroidal-ballute for use in orbit capture or atmosphere entry. Most ballute concepts are used for braking; drag-only devices that cannot be steered. However, Global Aerospace hopes to manipulate the tether lengths between the spacecraft and the ballute to create aerodynamic lift, making steering possible.

NASA has looked at ballute idea before; most recently, their Fly Higher, Fly Lighter program (2004) aimed to use ballutes to lower the cost of putting a satellite into orbit. Taking this approach translates to using less propellant to slip a satellite into a proper orbit, lower launch costs, and makes more room on spacecraft for sensors and other payload gear.

Science fiction fans have already had a great look at the use of ballutes in the 1984 movie 2010, a sequel to the earlier Arthur C. Clarke film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Take a look at this dramatic video clip from 2010 showing the deployment of the ballute on the Russian spacecraft Leonov.

?(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of