China has successfully experimented with its space program's inflatable reentry and descent technology (IRDT), a technology that can allow China to land heavier spacecraft on celestial bodies with thin atmosphere, including the moon and Mars, specialists said.
The experiment, the first of its kind in China, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) recently conducted on IRDT successfully validated working principles, working process and multiple key technologies, Science and Technology Daily reported on Wednesday.
The tested space vehicle was shaped like a flying saucer and covered in thick air bags - key components to the IRDT system. IRDT is a new integrated inflatable heat insulating deceleration system that can land spacecraft without heat shields and parachutes, the Beijing-based newspaper said.
Landing systems using technology like this can handle more weight than with deceleration systems of earlier generations. It will provide a more effective landing approach that would allow heavier spacecraft to land, Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based rocket and aerospace expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Current landing methods such as parachute landing and thrust reversal make it difficult for spacecraft to land on celestial bodies with thin atmosphere such as the moon and Mars. That is where IRDT excels at, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
He added that IRDT provides buffer and protection to spacecraft while landing while inflating air bags which cover the spacecraft.
The U.S. conducted experiments in 2014 and 2015 on low density supersonic decelerators, a technology similar to China's IRDT, to land manned spacecraft and large robots on Mars. Although their attempts continue to face technical issues, the technology proved to be valuable, Pang said.
The IRDT will be used in deep space exploration and the quick return of space stations, scientific experiment satellites and space freight, Science and Technology Daily reported.
"It requires spacecraft to use different kinds of landing methods on different celestial bodies… China must consider new methods (like IRDT) to learn all technical approaches," Song noted, believing China will master the technology despite the challenges.
"China is looking to land on the moon and Mars. The new technology will be of great help."
China plans to launch its first spacecraft using this technology in 2019, the newspaper reported.