The shared goal of future spaceflight builds a bridge between organizational cultures.">
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In This Issue
From the Academy Director: Change Management and Adaptive Challenges
The Knowledge Notebook: What's Right About Being Wrong
Interview with Wayne Hale
Case Study: Making Compliance Comprehensible
Peer Assist: Learning Before Doing
The Impact of Energy on Projects
NASA Knowledge Forum 2: Knowledge in Projects
NASA + SpaceX Work Together
The Freedom to Learn
X-15: Pushing the Envelope
From Sketch Pad to Launchpad: Shaping the Shuttle
A Carrier Team One Risk Management Success Story
MIDAS: Keys to Software Success
A sample of PICA-X heat-shield material subjected to temperatures of up to 1,850°C (3,360°F) at the Arc Jet Complex at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. The NASA-originated PICA material holds the record for high-speed reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. The SpaceX-developed and -manufactured PICA-X variants meet or exceed the performance of the original material, and will protect the Dragon spacecraft on its return to Earth. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: SpaceXNASA is committed to working with private industry to develop the next generation of space-transportation technologies. The agency's Commercial Crew and Cargo program manages Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) partnership agreements that provide financial and technical resources to organizations committed to developing reliable and economical new launch vehicles and spacecraft. SpaceX is one of these partners. Successful NASA–SpaceX collaboration has created the heat shield for the firm's Dragon spacecraft.
Inspecting the carbon-composite carrier structure for the first Dragon spacecraft heat shield, fresh from its mold. At nearly 4 m (13 ft.) in diameter, the structure supports the PICA-X tiles that protect the spacecraft during reentry. (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: SpaceX/Roger GilbertsonGiven PICA's light weight and high performance, and the potential to benefit from knowledge gained on Orion and MSL, SpaceX chose PICA for its Dragon spacecraft, a pressurized capsule designed to carry cargo and eventually astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. The company asked experts at Ames to provide support for the development of a 3.6-meter PICA shield for Dragon, and NASA made its expertise and specialized facilities available to SpaceX. SpaceX undertook the design and manufacture of the reentry heat shield; it brought speed and efficiency that allowed the heat shield to be designed, developed, and qualified in less than four years.
Test placement of the PICA-X tiles on the first Dragon flight's heat-shield carrier structure. During reentry the lightweight tiles withstand temperatures as high as 2,000°C (3,620°F). (Click image for close-up) Photo Credit: SpaceX/Roger GilbertsonAt NASA, his proposed solution would have led to a series of studies and additional meetings before a decision was made. But on-the-spot executive decisions that would be difficult at a government agency or large corporation readily happen at a small private company. Rasky found that kind of decisiveness exhilarating and a little alarming—what if he was wrong?
Protected by a PICA-X heat shield in this artist's rendition, the Dragon spacecraft reenters the Earth's atmosphere at around 7 kilometers per second (15,660 mph), heating the exterior of the spacecraft as high as 2,000°C (3,620°F). (Click image for close-up) Image Credit: SpaceXSpaceX has the advantage of speed and the freedom to innovate; NASA brings a breadth of experience and technical expertise to the table. It was NASA, after all, that carried out the research to develop the phenolic impregnated carbon material in the first place. NASA has unmatched experience in how materials and spacecraft actually behave in flight. And NASA has special facilities that small entrepreneurial companies could not readily afford. So, for instance, SpaceX makes use of the arcjet facilities at Ames that offer the only way to test the Dragon shield material at the requisite high temperatures.
Andrew Chambers started his career in the propulsion department of SpaceX in 2004. He initially worked on the development of various liquid rocket engines, including those that will lift the Dragon spacecraft. Over the past four years, he has developed the reentry heat shield for this capsule.
Dan Rasky is the director for the Emerging Commercial Space Office at Ames Research Center and a senior scientist with NASA. He is a co-founder and director of the Space Portal, whose mission is to "be a friendly front door for emerging and nontraditional space companies."