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Rachel Prucey
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

May 13, 2008
NASA's Insulation Material Named NASA Government Invention of 2007
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – The 2007 NASA Government Invention of the Year is a heat shield material slightly more dense than balsa wood that is designed to protect spacecraft during their fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

The Lightweight Ceramic Ablator material (LCA) is a low-density material that weighs one-fifth as much as conventional heat shields, but can withstand temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to project engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The material has a foundation made of fibers coated with a thin layer of organic polymeric resin. The resin, traditionally used as a bonding agent, creates a light, durable, heat-resistant shield.

"This material will play a key role in NASA's future space missions as we mount human and robotic missions to the moon, asteroids, Mars and throughout the solar system," said S. Pete Worden, Ames center director. "This is indeed an honor and I'm very proud of the Ames team that developed this critical technology."

Because of its durability and low-density, the LCA family of protective materials is expected to play a significant role in future NASA missions every time a spacecraft enters a planetary atmosphere. The materials quickly are becoming the industry standard for heat shields on commercial spacecraft. The invention may lead to the application of heat shields specially tailored for broader commercial and government applications.

NASA applied a type of this innovative heat shield material, the Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA), on the Stardust sample return capsule, which brought back to Earth the first comet particles and interstellar dust samples in January 2006. Stardust holds the record for the fastest Earth re-entry speed of any human-made object. PICA is planned for use as the heat shield on the new Orion crew vehicle and the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Other LCAs were used to protect the Mars rovers during their descent to the surface of the Red Planet.

“It is an honor to be involved in the development of an innovative heat shield material that has a far reaching impact on NASA missions and perhaps on commercial space travel in the future,” said Huy Tran, an Ames engineer and member of the team that invented the technology. “I’m very pleased to see a simple idea we had years ago evolve into important technology for pursuing space exploration for NASA, and new space development for the commercial space industry,” said Daniel Rasky, another member of the Ames development team. Other members of the team included Ming-Ta Hsu, William Henline, and Salvatore Riccitello, all since retired. U.S. Patents have been granted for the inventions.

NASA's general counsel selects the Invention of the Year Award with technical assistance from NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board. Inventors of the technology will be honored at the NASA Project Management Challenge Conference tentatively scheduled in February 2009.

For more information about NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

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