SpaceX Leaves Searing Impression on NASA Heat Shield Guy

Profile | Dan Rasky

Director and Co-Founder

House Portal at NASA Analysis Park


Innovation Activation

Quickly after he started working with SpaceX, Dan Rasky was sitting in a convention room listening to 9 or 10 engineers talk about the easiest way to provide warmth shields for the Dragon area capsule when SpaceX Chief Govt Elon Musk turned to him and requested, “Dan, what do you suppose?”

Rasky, a longtime NASA veteran and one of many inventors of the warmth protect materials underneath dialogue, urged SpaceX manufacture the warmth protect in home to optimize its properties for Dragon and achieve the flexibleness to switch its properties for future spacecraft. What occurred subsequent shocked him. Musk stated, “That’s what we’re going to do.”

SpaceX Chief Govt Elon Musk. Credit score: Elliot College of Worldwide Affairs

The assembly ended, everybody left the convention room and Rasky questioned whether or not anybody had written down his precise phrases so he may evaluate them and ensure his suggestions have been good ones. At NASA, the place Rasky had labored for practically 20 years, a call of that magnitude solely would have been made after a number of conferences, discussions and assessments of competing options.

Progressively, Rasky received used to the tempo of decision-making at SpaceX, the place he spent half his time from the spring of 2008 to the spring of 2009 as a part of a personnel alternate between SpaceX and the NASA Ames Analysis Heart in Mountain View, California.

Rasky first got here to NASA Ames in 1989 from a small Silicon Valley firm, Acurex Corp. He labored in Acurex’s Aerotherm Division, which carried out analysis and improvement work for the Protection Division’s ballistic missile workplace. Earlier than that, Rasky earned a doctorate in supplies science on the College of California, Santa Barbara.

Whereas working for NASA, Rasky served as chief for the NASA Ames Thermal Safety Supplies Department, the place he and his colleagues invented Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA), a fabric designed to guard spacecraft throughout high-speed entry in planetary atmospheres. PICA was first used on NASA’s Stardust comet return mission. PICA was named NASA’s 2007 Invention of the 12 months.

In 2005, Rasky co-founded the House Portal of the NASA Analysis Park in Mountain View with Lynn Harper, one of many founders of the science of astrobiology; Mark Newfield, NASA Ames mission supervisor for the Mars Exploration Rover Thermal Safety System; and Bruce Pittman, an aerospace engineer who labored on NASA satellite tv for pc missions earlier than co-founding business area ventures, together with Kistler Aerospace Corp. and SpaceHab Inc.

Rasky spoke not too long ago with table4 correspondent Debra Werner.


How did PICA come about?After I was a brand new department chief at NASA Ames, I got here to the conclusion that we wanted some superior warmth protect materials. We had been doing work on tiles for a reusable system just like the area shuttle tiles. I got here to the conclusion that we wanted to develop some superior ablative warmth protect supplies for going to Mars or comets by making use of a few of these superior tile applied sciences.

NASA’s Stardust sample-return capsule at NASA’s Johnson House Heart after its January 2006 return to Earth. Credit score: NASA/Johnson House Heart

Inform me concerning the Stardust mission.We have been engaged on PICA and had made items concerning the measurement of a espresso cup after we received a name from Dr. Ben Clark at what was then Martin Marietta, now Lockheed Martin. He had an concept for a NASA Discovery-class mission to go to a comet, get a pattern and are available again to Earth. To make that mission work, he wanted a brand new warmth protect materials. All of the supplies accessible on the time have been both not sturdy sufficient to outlive the setting or have been means too heavy. He heard about PICA and confirmed up on our doorstep.

The Stardust mission was ultimately funded and flown with the PICA warmth protect. How did it work?Stardust launched in 1998, was in area for nearly eight years and re-entered Earth’s ambiance very efficiently in 2006, coming in at speeds of a little bit underneath 13 kilometers per second, which is sort of a bit quicker than lunar return. The utmost deceleration that it encountered was 50 Gs. Stardust set the world document for the quickest entry of a human-made object into Earth’s ambiance. It’s now on show on the Smithsonian Air and House Museum within the “Milestones of Flight” show alongside the Wright flier, Spirit of Saint Louis and Apollo 11 capsule — very good firm.

How did you come to work for SpaceX?Elon Musk wished PICA for Dragon. He’s a physicist so he knew {that a} warmth protect that succeeded in a comet return had an excellent likelihood of working for a Mars return mission.

The warmth protect for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Credit score: SpaceX

What did you do at SpaceX?We needed to scale up manufacturing of PICA. We began out making issues concerning the measurement of a espresso cup, went on to a prototype part and ultimately went into full-scale manufacturing. We constructed six blocks of PICA, measuring about 2 toes by 1 foot by 1 foot [60 centimeters by 30 centimeters by 30 centimeters], in a single step in a giant oven. We did that entire improvement in 2008 and early 2009.

When did you change into considering business area?By way of the Nineties, I used to be on all the main supply analysis boards for NASA’s Human Exploration Program area transportation programs. The ’90s weren’t the best time for area transportation. NASA had a lot of packages that didn’t pan out: Nationwide Aerospace Airplane, Reusable Launch Automobile, X-33, X-34, House Launch Initiative and the Orbital House Airplane. I started to surprise why we have been having a lot issue on this area. By way of packages like Stardust and Mars Pathfinder, I had labored with NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. I’d additionally labored on expertise packages with NASA’s Aeronautics Mission Directorate. I discovered that regardless that it wasn’t all sweetness and light-weight, typically, these directorates have been extra profitable in conducting their missions.

Why?I grew to become satisfied it was as a result of they each had highly effective exterior communities. The Aeronautics Mission Directorate has the entire aviation trade. The Science Mission Directorate has a robust and vocal science group. These exterior teams offered some stabilization in opposition to the political winds that blew. As a result of human spaceflight is pushed by the administration and Congress, there’s quite a lot of political wind blowing. I grew to become satisfied that we wanted an exterior group for human spaceflight to counter among the political winds, and business area was our greatest shot. I started trying within the mid-Nineties for alternatives to assist or advocate for the event of business area.

NASA Ames Analysis Heart. Credit score: NASA

Is that why you based the House Portal?Sure. At NASA Ames, I crossed paths with Lynn Harper, Mark Newfield and Bruce Pittman. We have been all very within the business area trade and what it may do to assist transfer NASA’s and the nation’s goals ahead. We began working collectively as a result of we had this mutual curiosity. In late 2005, Michael Marlaire, director of the NASA Analysis Park at Ames, urged Lynn, Bruce and I co-locate our workplaces. At the moment we have been situated in numerous buildings as a result of all of us have been working in numerous organizations. He made a constructing accessible. That’s how we got here collectively.

Didn’t your group assist to develop the programmatic idea that ultimately was used for the Industrial Orbital Transportation System?Sure. Bruce Pittman and a NASA colleague, Tom Taylor, gave the primary presentation that laid out the milestone-based strategy for partaking business entities to get payloads and ultimately crews to the worldwide area station.

What’s your impression of the present business area setting?It appears prefer it’s actually able to erupt.

What’s the House Portal engaged on now?One in all our actions right here is to establish promising enterprise candidates for microgravity. Now we have been finding out actions on the worldwide area station with doubtlessly giant financial worth.

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