Engineers at Lockheed Martin have successfully completed fabrication of the world's largest heat shield.
The shield - which measures a total of five meters (16.4 feet) in diameter - will be used to protect NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle from extreme temperatures during re-entry.
Lockheed Martin spokesperson Cleon Lacefield explained that production of the crew exploration vehicle has "spurred" the development of various technologies, including an advanced high-temperature composite material system.
"The new resin system was tested in extreme environments that simulated a ballistic re-entry from a lunar mission," said Lacefield.
"[We] verified that the thermal insulator on the outside of the composite material can be thinner due to the higher temperature capability, resulting in improved mass optimization of the Orion spacecraft."
When completed, Orion will provide a state-of-the-art human space flight system capable of safely transferring astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), the moon, Mars and other destinations beyond low earth orbit (LEO).
In addition, the Orion spacecraft will be capable of remaining in space for 210 days and re-entering orbit at the velocities typical of lunar or asteroid missions.