Heat Shield, X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle

Display Status:

This object is on display in the Moving Beyond Earth exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Collection Item Summary:

This metallic heat shield panel was made for the X-33 reusable launch vehicle research project that NASA and Lockheed carried out from 1996-2001. The purpose of the project was to evaluate technologies for a successor vehicle to the Space Shuttle. Researchers targeted the thermal protection system for improvement and innovation, seeking a more durable and more easily installed heat shield that would require less maintenance than Shuttle tiles. This lightweight metallic heat shield panel, made of Inconel and titanium, would lock together with others to form an armor layer on the vehicle. Such a metallic shield was deemed a viable alternative to ablative shields or ceramic tiles. However, NASA shelved this approach to thermal protection when it cancelled the X-33 project, and the Museum acquired a sample panel for its heat shield collection.