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Apollo and Orion Avcoat

AVCOAT 5026-39 is a NASA code for a specific ablative heat shield material created by Avco[1][2] (acquired by Textron in 1984).[3] It is an epoxy novolac resin with special additives in a fiberglass honeycomb matrix. In fabrication, the empty honeycomb is bonded to the primary structure and the resin is gunned into each cell individually.[4]


AVCOAT was used for the heat shield on NASA's Apollo command module.[5] In its final form, this material was called AVCOAT 5026–39.

Although AVCOAT was not used for the Space Shuttle orbiters, NASA is using the material for its next generation Orion spacecraft.[6] The Avcoat to be used on Orion is reformulated to meet environmental legislation that has been passed since the end of Apollo.[7][8]


Notable AVCOAT installations[edit]

AVCOAT for Orion Crew Module[edit]

The Orion Crew Module was first designed for the NASA's Constellation program, but later adapted the Space Launch System to replace the Space Shuttle program. This spacecraft was planned to take astronauts to the International Space Station in 2015 and to the moon in 2024.

ASRC Federal technicians inspect AVCOAT block bonding on the Artemis II heat shield on at Kennedy Space Center on July 2, 2020.

In the past, the honeycomb paste-like fiberglass material is gunned into each cells individually. On the other hand, the Orion heat shield is bonded onto the base of the heat shield.

To protect the Crew Module during Earth re-entry, the dish shaped AVCOAT heat shield ablator system was selected. NASA announced that this module will encounter temperature as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2760 °C).[9] Licensed by Textron,[10] AVCOAT material is produced at New Orleans's Michoud Assembly Facility by Lockheed Martin. This heat shield will be installed at the base of the crew module to provide a controlled erosion moving heat away from the crew module into the atmosphere. This process of erosion is called “ablation” - where materials are removed by vaporization or erosion by continuous contact with the supersonic velocity of gas flow and high temperature; thus the construction of honeycomb structure was made.

Testing an AVCOAT specimen in an environmental chamber at NASA Langley

John Kowal, Orion's thermal protections systems manager at Johnson Space Center, discussed the biggest challenge with AVCOAT has been reviving the technology for manufacturing with similar performance as demonstrated in the Apollo Missions.[11]

The EFT-1 mission performed two orbits of Earth providing the opportunity for Orion's systems to be tested. It took about four hours with the splash down in the ocean.[12]

AVCOAT for Apollo missions[edit]

AVCOAT was first used on the parts of the Apollo spacecraft orbiter and as a unit attached to the crew module in the past. It is a honeycomb structure. NASA confirmed that this is made of silica fibers with an epoxy novolac resin filled in a fiberglass-phenolic manufactured directly onto the heat shield.[13][14]

NASA's Apollo Flight Test Analysis, AVCOAT 5026-39/HC-G material was tested on the nose cone of a Pacemaker sounding rocket.[15] The temperature and ablation measurements were made at four locations on the nose cap. The report noted that the wear of the shield is due to the aerodynamic shear and heating rate. The report also noted that scientists believed that the ablation was done in a controlled manner.

After the Apollo missions, the production was then put in place for the purpose of studying. Orion Chief Engineer requested the heat shield to be redesigned,[16] however the final design was not selected.

AVCOAT heat shield research and installation for Orion Crew Module[edit]

The AVCOAT material heat shield went through several rounds of testing before being chosen for the installation. During the investigation of the thermochemical response of Avcoat TPS (based on first principles for comparison with EFT-1 data), things being tested on the heat-shield included: modeling of gas transport, heat transfer, and TPS material regression.[17]

Orion's 16.5 feet AVCOAT heat shield was secured onto the Orion Crew Module using 68 bolts by Technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. This heat shield is covered in titanium truss and a composite substitute with an addition skin made of carbon fiber layers. Orion's heat-shield was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The heat shield is like pieces of a honeycomb puzzle that all must fit together perfectly and the bolt fittings must be lined up.[10]

After the heat-shield's installation, access to components of the crew module became difficult or no longer accessible.

Flight use[edit]



See Also[edit]

Phenolic-impregnated carbon ablator


  1. ^ Wilson, Jim. "NASA - NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study -- Final Report". www.nasa.gov.
  2. ^ "Fire-Resistant Reinforcement Makes Steel Structures Sturdier". January 12, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-01-12.
  3. ^ Textron Systems History Archived November 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, 1984 History, "Textron acquires Avco, including Lycoming, to become Avco Systems Textron", 2010, accessed 2010-11-27.
  4. ^ a b c d e Flight-Test Analysis Of Apollo Heat-Shield Material Using The Pacemaker Vehicle System NASA Technical Note D-4713, pp. 8, 1968-08, accessed 2010-12-26. "Avcoat 5026-39/HC-G is an epoxy novolac resin with special additives in a fiberglass honeycomb matrix. In fabrication, the empty honeycomb is bonded to the primary structure and the resin is gunned into each cell individually. ... The overall density of the material is 32 lb/ft3 (512 kg/m3). The char of the material is composed mainly of silica and carbon. It is necessary to know the amounts of each in the char because in the ablation analysis the silica is considered to be inert, but the carbon is considered to enter into exothermic reactions with oxygen. ... At 2160° R (1200° K), 54 percent by weight of the virgin material has volatilized and 46 percent has remained as char. ... In the virgin material, 25 percent by weight is silica, and since the silica is considered to be inert the char-layer composition becomes 6.7 lb/ft3 (107.4 kg/m3) of carbon and 8 lb/ft3 (128.1 kg/m3) of silica."
  5. ^ a b c d e f Apollo Experience Report - Thermal Protection Subsystem (Jan. 1974)
  6. ^ "NASA - NASA Selects Material for Orion Spacecraft Heat Shield". www.nasa.gov.
  7. ^ "Flightglobal.com - NASA's Orion heat shield decision expected this month (Oct 3, 2009)".
  8. ^ "Company Watch - NASA. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com.
  9. ^ Clem, Kylie; Clem, Rachel (April 7, 2009). "NASA Selects Material for Orion Spacecraft Heat Shield". NASA News Release. NASA. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  10. ^ a b Herridge, Linda. "Heat shield install brings Orion spacecraft closer to space". SpaceDaily. KSC News. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  11. ^ Prucey, Rachel; Clem, Kylie. "NASA Selects Material for Orion Spacecraft Heat Shield". NASA News Releases. NASA. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  12. ^ Kramer, Miriam. "NASA's 1st Orion Spaceship Gets World's Largest Heat Shield (Photos)". Space.com. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  13. ^ Prucey, Rachel; Clem, Kylie. "NASA Selects Material for Orion Spacecraft Heat Shield". NASA News. NASA. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  14. ^ "Aerothermodynamics HEOMD Projects". Nasa.gov. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  15. ^ Graves, Randolph A.; Witte, William G. (August 1968). "Flight-Test Analysis of Apollo Heat-shield Material Using the Pacemaker Vehicle System" (PDF). NASA Scientific and Technical Information (STI) Program. D (4137): 11–12. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  16. ^ Hoffpauir, Daniel. "An Alternate Orion Heat Shield Carrier Structural Design". NASA News. NASA. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  17. ^ Levin, Deborah. "Investigating the Thermochemical Response of Avcoat TPS from First Principles for Comparison with EFT-1 Data". NASA News. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 3 April 2019.

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