Next up for the HIAD team, in the near future, is the IRVE-3 flight test -- scheduled for summer of 2012. An almost 10-foot (three-meter) diameter inflatable heat shield will be launched off the coast of Virginia and its performance studied during descent.
Wind tunnel and laboratory tests of other concepts and designs are also ongoing.
In the long term, NASA could use a HIAD to deliver cargo or people to any world with an atmosphere, since inflatable heat shields use the atmosphere to help slow the spacecraft down. Closer to Earth it could be as a new kind of delivery system to return cargo from the International Space Station.
For planetary missions, an inflatable heat shield addresses some of the size and weight restrictions of current rigid aeroshell technology and allows for more landing destination accuracy. On Mars, for example, a larger vehicle would allow more weight to be landed at the same altitude; or allow the same weight to be landed at higher altitudes. This new technology can be used on any planet or object in space that has an atmosphere -- places like Earth, Mars, Venus, Titan, and the gas giants, which include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This new technology will advance space exploration, both robotic and human, allowing new scientific discoveries.
HIAD ... changing the way we explore other worlds.