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Demonstrator for flight tests


Experimental and Numerical Study of Critical Aerothermodynamic Phenomena on the EXPERT Reentry Demonstrator for Preparing In-Flight Tests

Tech Area / Field

  • SAT-STM/Spacecraft Trajectories and Mechanics/Space, Aircraft and Surface Transportation
  • SAT-UNM/Unmanned Spacecraft/Space, Aircraft and Surface Transportation
  • SAT-VEC/Space Launch Vehicles and Support Equipment/Space, Aircraft and Surface Transportation

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Ryzhova T B

Leading Institute
Siberian Branch of RAS / Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITPMech), Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Novosibirsk

Supporting institutes

  • Makeyev Design Bureau of State Rocket Center, Russia, Chelyabinsk reg., Miass\nRussian Academy of Sciences / Institute for Problems in Mechanics, Russia, Moscow


  • European Space Agency, The Netherlands, Noordwijk\nvon Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, Belgium, Rhode Saint Genèse\nC.I.R.A. Italian Aerospace Research Center, Italy, Capua

Project summary

The European Space Agency, ESA, embarked on an in-flight Aerothermodynamic (ATD) research programme referred to as EXPERT: the European EXPErimental Re-entry Testbed. The purpose of this flight test programme is to provide high quality hypersonic flight data associated with critical Aerothermodynamic phenomena such as boundary layer transition, shock boundary layer interaction, surface catalysis and oxidation and communication black out.

The EXPERT flight test programme ( total budget 20 MEuro ) focuses on flying generic configurations optimized in such a way as to enhance the understanding of the Aerothermodynamic phenomena of interest and to enable measurements with improved accuracy and spatial resolution. The objective is not only to gather high quality flight data for numerical design tool validation but also to improve windtunnel to flight extrapolation strategies.

The flight tests planned after this ISTC project will involve the use of the the Russian Volna launcher (RSM-50 adapted to civil applications), which is rather flexible and can be adjusted to prescribed flight conditions. The launcher was developed at the State Rocket Center “Makeev Design Bureau” (SRC). Controlled ballistic flights of the EXPERT testbed with varying reentry speeds are planned for the study of critical aerothermodynamic phenomena.

Here an integrated project is proposed to strengthen European and Russian Aerothermodynamic tools for design, through :

· ground based hypersonic facility testing available at Russian laboratoria such ITAM and IPM,

· numerical analysis performed at ITAM and IPM and most important through
· research activities associated with ballistic flights performed by SRC such as trajectory optimization, coupled load analysis, telemetry and parachute optimization .

Flights of testbeds such as EXPERT are necessary for the validation of numerical methods. To create such demonstrators, it is necessary, first, to choose the geometric model of the reentry capsule and determine its aerodynamic characteristics at all expected flight altitudes: from the free-molecular regime at altitudes above 150 km through the transitional regime at altitudes of 90-150 km to the near-continuum regime at altitudes of 80-90 km followed by the continuum regime below 80 km. These aerodynamic data united into a database will be used for trajectory calculations of the reentry capsule. The database will also include the results of experimental studies of the EXPERT reentry capsule in a wide range of Mach numbers (M=2, 4, 6, 10, 14, 18) in ITAM wind tunnels T-313 and AT-303.

It is also necessary to evaluate heat loads for the verification of the thermal protection system (TPS). Aerothermal ground testing is an indispensable part of the design and qualification of the TPS . In fact, the modern high-enthalpy wind tunnels are unable to simulate the whole hypersonic free flight conditions. Therefore, it is very important to simulate in plasma facilities the local occurring gas /surface interactions around the nose and downstream conical panels such as to approach those in flight. The catalytic recombination of oxygen and nitrogen atoms on TPS is the most uncertain factor of the gas/surface interaction and heat transfer. To duplicate accurately catalytic heating and predict TPS catalycity in ground test it is necessary to posses a capable high-enthalpy facility and the knowledge relevant to flow field and quantitative heat transfer. Among existing hot-flow facilities, the 100-kW IPG-4 plasmatron (IPM RAS) appears as the most efficient one for predicting TPS surface catalycity.

The present ISTC project will include numerical and experimental investigations so as to complement the Aerothermodynamic data base of the EXPERT capsule. This work will be performed at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (ITAM) of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and at the Institute for Problems in Mechanics (IPM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. These institutes have long-time experience in the field of aerothermodynamics of space vehicles and have numerous experimental facilities available (wind tunnels designed for wide ranges of Mach and Reynolds numbers and plasmatrons). Both institutes already participated to European and Russian research programs.

To study the possibility of SRC participation in the EXPERT program, an ISTC project is proposed, aimed at research activities on providing the use of the Russian Volna launcher for launching ESA reentry demonstrators with specified trajectories.

Beginning from 1991, SRC performed numerous launches of reusable test vehicles, including those within the framework of various international programs. The landing site is the Kamchatka Peninsula equipped with ground telemetry and appropriate recovery units.

The experience shows that successful launches of this type require a large volume of work associated with modeling and verification of launch conditions, ground operations, and launcher /experimental vehicle interface activities. The present project therefore includes also activities associated with retrofitting of the «Volna» launcher (adapted ballistic launcher RSM-50), optimization of launcher / vehicles interface elements, trajectory analysis, coupled load analysis, improvement of telemetry system , parachute design and optimization and pre and post flight ground operation activities.

The Project is in agreement with ISTC objectives to give weapons scientists and engineers, particularly those who possess knowledge and skills related to weapons of mass destruction or launcher delivery systems, in the Russian Federation, opportunities to redirect their talents to peaceful activities.

The Project will be performed in close cooperation with European collaborators, in particular, ESA – ESTEC, for exchanging the initial data on the test capsule and testbed system related aspects, with CIRA on Vehicle Aerothermodynamic data base including scientific payload and with VKI on plasmatron testing for thermal protection system catalysis and associated heat flux analysis.


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