When Elon Musk's Dragon spacecraft re-entered earth's atmosphere May 31 it did so courtesy of a heat shield material developed and tested at NASA Ames.
At Ames the material was tested to withstand temperatures of 3.450 degrees twice that of hot lava. Tiles only a few inches thick protected the Dragon capsule as it pierced the earth's atmosphere. The technology was developed and tested in NASA Ames' arc-jet facility. It is called Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator, or PICA-X.
"We wouldn't be here without the help of NASA -- the core technologies developed by NASA have made this day possible," Musk said after his company's first successful trip into space and back. "The performance of the heat shield was spectacular. In an exercise of caution, we designed the heat shield to not just handle Earth orbit re-entry, but to actually be able to handle a worst-case, off-nominal lunar and Mars re-entry, so it's an extremely capable heat shield and opens up a lot of possibilities."
The unmanned spacecraft delivered 1200 pounds of supplies to the international space station, which docked the unmanned spacecraft with a robotic arm.
"This successful splashdown and the many other achievements of this mission herald a new era in U.S. commercial spaceflight," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.