Researchers at the University of Kentucky at Lexington have developed a transmission system designed to bring research samples and other small payloads from astronauts from the International Space Station back to Earth. This transmission system can aid NASA’s efforts to collect data and test instruments to support the agency’s goal of returning to the moon.

KRUPS Device The
KRUPS device was displayed at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, ready for Near Space Corporation high-altitude balloon flight tests. The metal cover around the small capsule opens to release it at the proper height.

Credits: University of Kentucky
The returning spacecraft must traverse the Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, generating a scorching temperature of 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why advanced thermal protection system (TPS) materials are critical to the success of technologies such as the Kentucky Reentry Universal Payload System (KRUPS). Such a system could one day deliver small payloads to Mars or other celestial bodies with harsh atmospheric conditions.

KRUPS unit The
KRUPS unit was displayed at the University of Kentucky in Lexington in preparation for the Near Space Corporation high-altitude balloon flight test. The metal box around the small capsule opens to release it to an appropriate height.

Credits: University of Kentucky
On April 15, 2021, with funding from NASA’s Flight Opportunity Program, researchers tested KRUPS on a high-altitude balloon at the Near Space Company in Madras, Oregon. Equipped with Near Space’s small balloon system, the 11-inch diameter KRUPS capsule reaches a height of approximately 100,000 feet. Researchers are now analyzing the data collected during the flight.

Although the balloon did not expose the KRUPS to the temperature required to test its thermal protection, it provided an important preparatory step for the upcoming TPS orbit test. Later in 2021, three KRUPS devices and other research payloads will travel to the International Space Station on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft. When the refueling spacecraft leaves the space station full of garbage and debris, it will burn when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, releasing the test chamber.

Researchers hope that these devices will survive their return to the atmosphere, thanks to NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. TPS material. The KRUPS devices will fall into the Pacific Ocean and cannot be recovered; however, researchers will use satellite data sent from these devices during reentry and descent to verify algorithms that improve the robustness of the TPS design.

In other tasks in the future, the compact KRUPS device may contain instruments such as spectrometers or other small sensors. The recent balloon flight of
allowed researchers to test the technology’s communications and electronic systems to verify its performance and help ensure the success of the next reentry test.

“This is why balloon flights through Flight Opportunities are more important when preparing KRUPS for station refueling flight tests,” said Alexandre Martin, principal investigator of KRUPS at the University of Kentucky. “Testing our communications system will ensure that we obtain the required TPS data for higher-risk orbital missions.”

About Flight Opportunities
The Flight Opportunity Program is planned by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. Funded and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages requests and evaluations of technologies that will be tested and demonstrated in commercial aircraft.

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