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Structures and Materials Division Research and Technology Directorate NASA Glenn Research Center

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Aerospace Seals - Heat Shield Systems
Research Objectives
Develop and demonstrate robust seal technology for the Orion heat shield-to-back shell interface gap.

Orion capsule and heat shield diagram
Technical Challenges
  • Sealing system for the Orion heat shield-to-back shell interface gap must:
    • Prevent ingestion of high enthalpy reentry gases into interface gap
    • Protect internal structures and systems from high temperatures
    • Prevent circumferential flow in interface gap
    • Accommodate opening and closing of gap between heat shield and back shell
    • Minimize loads against heat shield and back shell TPS materials (e.g., PICA, Avcoat)
    • Include provisions for pre-flight integrity checks to verify proper seal installation

Current Research
The NASA GRC Structural Seals Team is supporting the Orion TPS Advanced Development Project (ADP) by developing a sealing system for this application. Main activities in this effort currently include:
  • Compression and flow tests on candidate seal designs under representative conditions
  • Development of a methodology at the sub-scale level to verify that seals have been installed to proper compression levels
  • Seal arc jet testing to:
    • Demonstrate that the baseline sealing system meets seal requirements
    • Demonstrate robustness of the sealing system under off-nominal conditions
    • Provide a database for development/evaluation of models of the sealing system and gap heating/flow
  • Seal thermal analyses to:
    • Predict in-depth temperature profiles along the entire length of the main seal for various vehicle re-entry profiles
    • Determine heating augmentation factors in the seal interface due to steps and gaps in the presence of a circumferential flow
Thermal exposure testing of candidate seal materials
Above: Thermal exposure testing of candidate seal materials
Arc jet evaluation test of CEV Heat Shield-to-Back Shell Design  Successful Arc Jet Test of CEV Heat Shield-to-back Shell Seal Design
The seal comprises an outer hybrid thermal barrier designed to resist the extreme temperatures of reentry.
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Sample seals for Orion CEV  Sample Seals for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) Fabricated
The seals, also known as hybrid thermal barriers, were designed for the CEV main heat shield-to-back shell interface.
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Pat Dunlap
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NASA Seals and Secondary Flows Symposium

November 19, 2013 - Postponed to Nov. 2014 due to Government Shutdown in October. Watch for new date.

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Last Updated: September 22, 2009