Published On: Tue, Jun 21st, 2022

Why Does Boeing’s Starliner Not Look Burned After Reentry (Video)


Nearly one month ago, Boeing has successfully completed the first uncrewed CST-100 Starliner flight test to the International Space Station, effectively demonstrating the capability of the new spacecraft to deliver humans and cargo to the Earth’s orbit.

Among tons of valuable test data, one thing was unnoticed by most of observers: why doesn’t Starliner have that burned look and is generally cleaner after the landing compared to SpaceX’s Dragon and many other space capsules?

Boeing and NASA teams work around Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft after it landed at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico.

Boeing and NASA teams work around Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft after it landed at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico. Image credit: NASA via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The major secret is that Boeing’s spacecraft uses two types of thermal shield. The so-called ablative shield covers the main area of the shell responsible for the spacecraft’s deceleration, where temperatures reach up to 1650°C (3000°F), and this protection slowly burns, carrying away much of this extreme heat. Meanwhile, the non-ablative thermal shield covers the back area where thermal loads are considerably lower. This second type of protection can be re-used in future flights, and only the front part has to be completely replaced.

In addition, Starliner uses several other interesting features to minimize the impact of the material burning process, where the shape of the capsule also plays a major role. Watch the following video for an in-depth explanation:




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