Officials at the American space agency say that they successfully tested the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) earlier today. The experiment was launched to space aboard a NASA sounding rocket at 7:01 am EDT (1101 GMT) on Monday, July 23.
The flight took only 20 minutes. The sounding rocket took the experiment outside Earth's atmosphere, where the inflatable heat shield opened, and then reentered Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds exceeding 7,600 miles (12,231 kilometers) per hour.
Developed under the NASA Space Technology Program, the vehicle is made up of inflatable rings, which are covered with a heat-resistant blanket. The stake in this experiment was that future spacecraft sent to other worlds might use this technology to survive atmospheric entry, and land safely.
The entire experiment weighs just 680 pounds (309 kilograms) and it fitted inside the sounding rocket's 22-inch (55.9-centimeter) nose cone. The inflated IRVE-3 is only 10 feet (3.3 meters) across.