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"Bun is such a sad word, is it not?" -- Watt, "Waiting for Godot"
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For re-entry from orbit, a critical factor is dissipating
orbital kinetic energy into the atmosphere to slow the
spacecraft down. The most popular way of doing this is to
have a roughly-conical reentry vehicle with ablative heat
shields on the scorchy side. Made of expensive, fragile
that burn up, these release a somewhat
protective ionised gas boundary layer that radiates away
The rate of heating and the total heat are critical to re-
entry and together dictate the re-entry strategy/design. A
steep entry reduces the total heat, but increases the peak
heating. A shallow entry, the reverse.
The area of the re-entry body is critical to the rate of
heating, and the heat per unit area of airframe. But wind-
facing area is generally dictated by the launch
So, this idea is to have a re-entry body that has a large
effective area of a springy perhaps carbon composite
semi-ablative canopy - the springiness allows the fronds to
be folded compactly within the launch vehicle. Once
unfurled, they deliver drag and dissipate heat, but over a
much larger area.
Inflatable instead of springy
Sort-of like this? [neutrinos_shadow, Oct 16 2019]
||Sounds a lot like the aerobraking volute demonstrated by the "Leonov" in the movie 2010.