Herein, a new lightweight thermal protection system was proposed to reduce the weight of a re-entry capsule. The proposed system employs an ablator as a thermal protection material, and a high-temperature polyimide carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) sandwich panel as a structure member. The sandwich panel was designed to exhibit high thermal insulation and good mechanical properties at high temperature, and simultaneously ensure that the ablator has low thickness. Three-point bending was carried out at a high temperature up to 300 °C to evaluate shear strength and flexural rigidity of the sandwich panel. Further, the proposed thermal protection system was examined using an arc-heated plasma wind tunnel to evaluate its thermal protection performance and thermal response. The shear strength and the flexural rigidity of this high-temperature structure were 76.8 and 86.9% of that at room temperature, respectively, when evaluated at 300 °C. The proposed system achieved more than 40% weight reduction while maintaining high thermal insulation and recession resistance.
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