Expert's reentry flap endures hot baptism

Jun 30, 2011
Expert's reentry flap endures hot baptism
The Expert spacecraft during reentry flight (artist's impression)

(PhysOrg.com) -- A spacecraft control flap designed for the super-heated hypersonic fall through Earth’s atmosphere has come through testing in the world’s largest plasma wind tunnel to be ready for its first flight next year.

This flap and its advanced sensors are destined to fly on ESA’s Expert – the European Experimental Reentry Testbed – a blunt-nosed capsule being shot up to the edge of space next spring on a Russian Volna rocket to gather data on atmospheric reentry at 5 km/s.

Expert carries experimental side flaps to help show that they can steer larger ESA reentry vehicles such as the IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle in 2013.

“This flap is fitted with a variety of instruments, including cameras, pressure monitors and an ultraviolet spectrometer to gather data during the hottest two minutes of Expert’s 15-minute flight,” explained Jan Thoemel, Expert Project Scientist.  

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Side view of Expert's instrumented flap in Italy's Scirocco plasma wind tunnel during April 2011 testing. Credits: ESA/CIRA

“We needed to prove this instrumentation will indeed function as planned, and check our mathematical modelling was accurate. “This meant recreating the extreme environment of atmospheric reentry down on the ground.”

Italy’s Scirocco plasma wind tunnel in Capua, near Naples, is one of the few sites worldwide where such testing is possible.

Named for the hot Mediterranean wind and operated by the CIRA aerospace research centre, Scirocco runs vast amounts of power through an arc heater, heating up air into a blowtorch-like plasma that jets through its 2 m-diameter tunnel.

Its arc heater was taken up to 10 000ºC with 38 MW of electricity, creating a plasma flow seven times the speed of sound and bringing the temperature of the flap up to 1200ºC.

Identical to the flight version, the test flap is made from heat-resistant ceramics. Its instruments include a miniature infrared camera provided by RUAG Space Switzerland and pressure and high-temperature sensors developed by the German Aerospace Center DLR and CIRA.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

“After years of preparation we performed four test runs on 13 April, comfortably exceeding the heat loads we anticipate the flap will encounter during its spaceflight aboard Expert,” explained Jan.

“Each test reached 1.75 times the flight heat load, amounting to seven times the flight heat load overall.

“Despite this, our instrumentation performed excellently, validating it for actual flight.

“In the months that followed we’ve been comparing the test results to our software models to highlight any discrepancies, as a way of improving the computational fluid dynamics design tools used for Expert.”

Running on the equivalent energy consumption of a small town, Scirocco’s construction was co-funded by ESA and the Italian Ministry for University and Research, with ‘wind-on’ occurring in March 2001.

The facility serves a wide variety of customers worldwide. Its operator CIRA is playing a wider role in preparing for Expert’s flight.

“This test campaign represented a particular challenge because it was approaching the limits of the facility’s capabilities,” explained Giulano Marino of CIRA.
 
“Many new components had to be installed first, requiring extensive testing, but the results speak for themselves.”

The Scirocco testing was funded through ESA’s Basic Technology Research Program, which supports new technology development.

The Expert capsule, studded with around 150 different sensors, is due to fly in spring 2012, sea-launched from a Russian submarine for recovery on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.

Explore further: SpaceX breaks ground on Texas rocket launch site

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hylas-1 ready for service

Mar 25, 2011

It’s all systems go for Hylas-1, the first satellite created specifically to deliver broadband access to European consumers. Since its launch in November, Hylas has performed well throughout its testing ...

Stealth unmanned combat vehicle makes first flight

May 04, 2011

Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s ...

Space sensor helps produce 'greener' glass

May 03, 2011

What has making glass in common with space exploration? The special technology to measure oxygen atoms outside space vehicles is now being used in the glass industry to produce super-efficient energy-saving ...

Galileo satellite undergoes launch check-up at ESTEC

Jan 20, 2011

Galileo's first satellite is undergoing testing at ESA's technical centre in the Netherlands, checking its readiness to be launched into orbit. This marks a significant step for Europe's Galileo satnav constellation.

Zapping deadly bacteria using space technology

May 27, 2011

Technology developed with ESA funding and drawing on long-running research aboard the International Space Station is opening up a new way to keep hospital patients safe from infections.

More than two million first orbits

Apr 20, 2011

Since its release on 12 April, the film recreating Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight has been seen almost 2.6 million times. Much of the footage was shot aboard the Space Station by ESA astronaut Paolo ...

Recommended for you

The difference between CMEs and solar flares

35 minutes ago

This is a question we are often asked: what is the difference between a coronal mass ejection (CME) and a solar flare? We discussed it in a recent astrophoto post, but today NASA put out a video with amazing graphics that explain ...

Scientific instruments of Rosetta's Philae lander

45 minutes ago

When traveling to far off lands, one packs carefully. What you carry must be comprehensive but not so much that it is a burden. And once you arrive, you must be prepared to do something extraordinary to make ...

How ancient impacts made mining practical

2 hours ago

About 1.85 billion years ago, in what would come to be known as Sudbury Canada, a 10 kilometer wide asteroid struck with such energy that it created an impact crater 250 kilometers wide. Today the chief industry of Sudbury ...

Indian spacecraft on course to enter Mars' orbit

3 hours ago

With home-grown technology and a remarkably low budget of about $75 million, India was on course to become the first nation to conduct a successful Mars mission on its first try.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

LKD
not rated yet Jul 01, 2011
"Running on the equivalent energy consumption of a small town"

That statement reminded me of the old tales how the lasers of the 80's would power on and the lights in the entire state would dim.