SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc. (SEI), along with its partners Earthly Dynamics, LLC (EDC) and Aerial Delivery Solutions, LLC (ADS), has validated autonomous and precision landing of a space-based payload return capsule through a series of successful low-altitude drop tests.
The tests in Dunnellon, Florida, on November 19 of 2020 are the latest in a steady progression to develop SpaceWorks’ product line of entry capsules, including the RED-25 and RED-4U that provide on-demand and low-cost downmass capabilities from Earth orbit.
This test campaign consisted of three airplane drop tests of a RED-4U prototype equipped with a guided ram-air parafoil with in-canopy actuators. The prototype drop test article was designated as Suborbital Test Vehicle #2 (STV-2). The parafoil is built by Aerial Delivery Solutions, LLC, and the actuators and flight software are developed by Earthly Dynamics, LLC. Tests were conducted at altitudes of approximately 7500 feet in 25 knot winds, achieving precision landings to a pre-specified target.
The next progression in the RED development effort will be a high-altitude balloon drop test of the precision re-entry RED-4U scheduled for late 2021. SpaceWorks, EDC, and ADS will demonstrate the RED precision re-entry capabilities from a suborbital space flight.
In addition to the RED-4U, the family of RED devices includes an expendable TPS testbed, RED-Data, and larger sample return capable versions RED-25, and RED-50. The capsule-shaped devices utilize a SpaceWorks’ proprietary TPS, called Nova-F, which allow them to withstand the high temperatures associated with re-entry. The RED systems can return up to 50 kg of payload with customizable configurations from space to anywhere within the contiguous United States in under 24 hours.
“The successful completion of the low-altitude drop tests were a monumental step forward for our RED product line,” said Tyler Kunsa, the RED Program Manager at SpaceWorks Flight. “Our RED devices provide a low-cost solution for rapid, safe and reliable payload return from space. The addition of proven precision landing capabilities sets the stage for faster and easier payload recovery.”
“We are excited to continue our partnership with SpaceWorks and Aerial Delivery Solutions to develop the precision-guided RED system. Our in-canopy, bleed-air actuation and industry-leading GN&C software provide an efficient and scalable solution compared to traditional guided airdrop systems. These drop tests are an exciting milestone in revolutionizing payload return from space,” said Dr. Benjamin León, a Research Engineer at Earthly Dynamics.
“Our RED devices will be instrumental to advancing a space-based commercial economy where micro-gravity experiments and in-space manufacturing require on-demand downmass capabilities,” said Dr. John Bradford, CTO and President at SpaceWorks. “We are thrilled to achieve this milestone as we continue our mission to provide low-cost return access capabilities from space.”