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Wilmington Firm Says Goodbye to Heat Shield For NASA Orion Spacecraft

The Super Guppy flew the heat shield out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Wednesday, and landed at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Orion heat shield is loaded into the NASA Super Guppy aircraft.
The Orion heat shield is loaded into the NASA Super Guppy aircraft.

After months of work, employees at Textron Defense Systems in Wilmington said goodbye to a heat shield to be used on the next generation of NASA spacecraft. 

The heat shield for the NASA Orion spacecraft left New England as it arrived, carried in the berth of the NASA Super Guppy aircraft.

The Super Guppy flew the heat shield out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Wednesday, and landed at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Textron had been working for eight months applying a material called Avcoat to the heat shield that will wear away at a controlled rate when exposed to heat during reentry of the NASA Orion spacecraft.

Back in July at Textron in Wilmington, members of NASA, Textron employees and Wilmington public officials admired the work completed on the heat shield in the near four months since it landed in Massachusetts.

Jeff Picard, Senior Vice President of Program Execution for Textron, said the heat shield is undoubtedly the most crucial part of the spacecraft to astronauts, as it's what protects them during reentry. 

"When you're traveling at 25,000 mph in 5,000 degree heat, I think you you would agree what you are most interested in is who made that heat shield," Picard said. 

Textron installed a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb's 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, which will shield Orion and its crew from the extreme heat they will experience as it returns to Earth.

Mark Geyer, NASA Program Manager for Orion, said the work Textron had done on the heat shield for Orion was impressive, and noted it was one of the most crucial components of the spacecraft. 

"There is no more important piece of Orion than this heat shield, and there are few on Orion that are more complicated or more difficult to build," Geyer said. "It's systems like this that protect the crew and get them back to earth safely."

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