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Engineering Design Challenge: Thermal Protection Systems [Grades 6 - 9]
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When spacecraft travel at high speeds through the Earth's atmosphere they generate high temperatures on their surfaces due to frictional heating. Space vehicles must have thermal protection systems (TPS) to protect them from this heat. Working in teams students design, build, and test a thermal protection system of their own. They use simple materials such as wood dowels, hot-melt glue, aluminum foil and copper screening to build a model that can withstand the heat of a propane torch. The models are tested under a tight protocol in order to maintain classroom safety. As a culminating activity, each team prepares a poster documenting and summarizing their design.