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6/2/2009
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NASA Aims To Improve Orbital Re-Entry

The space agency launches a series of experiments as part of its quest for safer, more efficient space flight.

NASA is conducting two suborbital re-entry experiments to help guide plans for improving re-entry for missions on the International Space Station and future missions to Mars.

NASA said that a team is analyzing flight data after the 40-foot-tall Terrier-Orion two-stage research rocket launched Thursday from Wallops Island, Va., and took two Sub-Orbital Aerodynamic Re-entry Experiments (SOAREX) more than 80 miles high. The rocket and its payloads fell into the Atlantic Ocean as planned.

The first SOAREX experiment tested a heat shield that unfolded to protect a Tube Deployed Re-entry Vehicle during its descent. The re-entry vehicle was designed to give payloads more stability and better packaging for safer returns.

The second experiment involved several temperature, pressure, and light sensors, as well as a mounted camera to determine the conditions that the vehicle's nose cone encounters during launch and in flight.

"Both experiments performed very well, but the Tube Deployed Re-entry Vehicle experiment performed even better than we had predicted," Marc Murbach, the principal investigator for the SOAREX missions, said in a prepared statement. "Because of how well the instruments worked, we expect to get very interesting and useful data."

The SOAREX experimental flights are managed by the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. A series of hypersonic SOAREX flights complement ground tests. The flights allow teams to experiment with atmospheric entry velocities close to those reached when shuttles return to the Earth's orbit. Last week's launch was the seventh in the series, also known as SOAREX-7.

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