Space shuttle experiment to provide insights into turbulence, heating

AAE Professor Steven Schneider helped shape plans to install a new experiment on the space shuttle Discovery to collect data for controlling deadly friction and heating in the design of future spacecraft.
 STS 119 Discovery was launched March 15 on a 13-day mission with a special "roughness element" installed among the shuttle's heat-shielding panels. The element is raised about a quarter of an inch and will be used to study how air turns from "laminar," or smooth, to turbulent. Data from the research will help design the heat shield for NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle, a vital component in future missions to the moon and Mars.
Data from the experiment also will help engineers design "hypersonic" aircraft that travel faster than Mach 5, nearly 4,000 mph. The faster an aircraft flies, the greater the friction and dangerous heating. Such heating damaged the leading edge of the heat-shielding system on the space shuttle Columbia, causing it to burn up as it entered the atmosphere in 2003.
Data was collected when the shuttle re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at the conclusion of the mission on March 28.
Purdue researchers also are using the only wind tunnel capable of running quietly at hypersonic speeds and have conducted experiments to yield data for designing advanced missiles such as the Falcon HTV-2 and an advanced aircraft called the X-51A, which is powered by scramjets. The X-51 project is led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Purdue's wind tunnel, which has been funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NASA, Sandia National Laboratories, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the Boeing Co., is named the Boeing/AFOSR Mach 6 Quiet Tunnel. The quiet wind tunnel operation is critical for collecting data to show precisely how air flows over a vehicle's surface in flight. No other wind tunnel runs quietly while conducting experiments in airstreams traveling at Mach 6.
The experiment on Discovery, which also is planned for two additional shuttle missions, will complement wind tunnel experiments and findings from computational models.
Brad Wheaton, left, and Peter Gilbert, graduate students in aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue, stand near a segment of the wind tunnel. Findings will help researchers determine how to control deadly friction and heating in the design of future spacecraft, advanced missiles and "hypersonic" aircraft powered by engines called scramjets. (Purdue News Service photo/Andrew Hancock)
Prof. Steven Schneider with the Mach 6 Wind Tunnel