Innovative Origami Heat Shield to be tested in a re-entry

A new heat shield designed by Space Forge with inspiring reusability capabilities will be put to the test in an atmospheric re-entry mission later this year

An innovative origami-like heat shield manufactured by Space Forge is set to be tested in a re-entry mission aboard the inaugural ForgeStar-1A mission later this year. This innovative, reusable design, backed by the European and the UK Space Agencies, promises to increase the viability of returning high-value goods from space.

A revolutionary hardware

The heat shield called “Pridwen”, named after King Arthur’s heroic shield, uses a shuttlecock design that springs out right before a spacecraft reenters the atmosphere.

Rendering of the origami heat shield springing out during a re-entry. Credits: ESA
Rendering of the origami heat shield springing out during a re-entry. Credits: ESA

As a spacecraft begins its return journey to Earth, it encounters the Earth’s atmosphere, which converts its orbital velocity into intense heat fluxes. Without proper protection, a spacecraft risks burning up during reentry. Heat shields are essential in mitigating this risk and ensuring a safe return.

Particular attention was put on the reusability of the heat shield: unlike traditional ablative heat shields that gradually burn off layers, Pridwen relies on radiation to dissipate heat, the high-temperature alloy fabric used in Pridwen has a large surface area, allowing for even heat distribution and gradual cooling.

This approach ultimately results in less material degradation during reentry, enabling the shield to retain its functionality and potentially be reused multiple times.

Not only does Pridwen protect the spacecraft from high temperatures, but it also serves the purpose of decelerating it enough to allow for a safe landing, without the need for parachutes. This simplifies the design and facilitates catching the satellite using a hover net, on the ground.

To test the effectiveness of the heat shield, multiple drop tests have been conducted from altitudes as high as 17 km. Additionally, Space Forge has successfully carried out net captures of test items falling at terminal velocity, further validating the recovery system’s performance.


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Who is Space Forge?

Space Forge, a Cardiff-based company, conceives a larger plan of in-orbit manufacturing of high-value goods, such as pharmaceuticals, superconductors, and superalloys. Furthermore, the British company aims to offer microgravity as a service, enabling customers to develop their products in space. 

To do so, Space Forge is planning to utilize a world-first reusable, returnable orbital manufacturing platform, the ForgeStar™ that promises to deploy, operate, and gently return the payload to Earth.

Pridwen’s successful deployment and use will be a critical step toward realizing this ambitious goal. The shield’s ability to protect and safely return these valuable resources to Earth on a routine basis could drastically transform space commercial markets.

Space Forge’s flow of operations to offer microgravity as a service. Credits: Space Forge

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Daniele Agamennone

Daniele Agamennone

Space Engineering student, passionate about astronomy from an early age. My favorite hobbies? Mountain biking and photography.

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