NASA Ames, JPL Win 2007 NASA Software of Year Award

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NASA Ames, JPL Win 2007 NASA Software of Year Award
07.23.08
 
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Steve Robinson: As you go through the entry process, what you see out the window is very, very dramatic. You’re hitting the low-density air at the top upper reaches of the atmosphere at tremendous speed and you’re making the molecules glow. The color they glow and how brightly, depends on the speed that you’re hitting them and what the density is out there. You don’t feel much buffeting or anything like that, but you’re very, very aware that just, just under you, it’s 2,700 degrees.

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James Reuther: One of the most difficult scenarios that we run into in space exploration is the re-entry physics. This is where the vehicle is returning through the earth’s atmosphere to get down to the ground. You have to have a thermal protection system or tps… materials that protect the vehicle from those extreme temperatures. We test these materials in ground facilities that can simulate those high heating conditions. But, ground test facilities aren’t enough. A much more recent tool, is to computationally simulate these extreme environments. A new tool that we’re using today to simulate these extreme environments is called DPLR or data-parallel line relaxation.

Mike Wright: what we use DPLR for is designing this heat shield that protects the spacecraft and keeps it from burning up. We need to do analysis because there’s just no place on earth where we can do that test.

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James Reuther: Subsequent to the Columbia accident, we embarked on a very vigorous activity to establish the DPLR code as a capability that could be run real-time during flights in case there were problems with the thermal protection system. During the flight of sts-114, we saw a gap filler protruding from the heat shield of the shuttle. We immediately realized that there was a possibility that that gap filler could cause increased heating to the tps system. We were really in a test mode of our analysis tools at that point and that all switched around once we realized that we actually had an anomaly that we had to address. It was an extremely high-pressure situation. But at the same time, it was remarkable to see how quickly we could turn around calculations. And how much confidence the entire team, the entire aerothermal team across the agency and also in academia who were brought together to look at this anomaly and see if it was a problem or not. The final recommendation was made to the shuttle program office in part with the DPLR calculations in hand to give high confidence to the fact that it did indeed pose a threat to the vehicle to leave the gap filler in place.

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James Reuther: We now use DPLR to predict the flow for the Orion spacecraft and help us design what TPS materials we’ll select for that vehicle and details of the shape of the vehicle as well are set by our DPLR calculations.

Mike Wright: The strength is not in the code. It’s a good tool. But it’s really to highlight the expertise that we have within the agency and at the center and how to manipulate that tool to generate the data that we needed.

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Adam Steltzner: The mars science laboratory mission is a very large vehicle. It will be the largest aeroshell ever made by human beings when we fly it. When we enter the martian atmosphere, the aerothermal environment creates challenges to our TPS. DPLR is one of our key tools for understanding the aerothermal environment. We use it to get our best estimate of the environments that the spacecraft sees and our thermal protection system material must endure. It’s been essential in our development, in our understanding of our risks. One of the key tools that i can use to understand the risk posture, and communicate it are the insights that i get on the DPLR runs.

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Bobby Braun: One of the greatest challenges is figuring out how to take the humans and fly them safely through the atmosphere down to the surface.

Rob Manning: The air is so thin on mars, that the vehicles don’t slow down to a point where you can light your engines below the speed of sound. That’s a big problem and how we might solve that is to use very large, potentially very large heat shields or aeroshells, things that the air actually pushes on to slow down.

Bobby Braun: We’ve done this for robotic missions, but we’ve done it at a very small scale, and it’s very hard to extrapolate those technical solutions to the large scale of human exploration. But we’re basically talking about landing two-story houses on the surface of mars, one right next to each other.

Rob Manning: The other challenge of course, is coming back to earth. Now, you can imagine, we can put people in a space capsule as they arrive to earth and directly land on earth like we do coming back from the moon. Well that’s exactly the idea. However, you’re coming back much faster, the heating rates are massively high. Even though the vehicle is quite a bit smaller than landing on mars, it’s still a huge problem.

Bobby Braun: To get at these solutions we need new design methods, we need new tools, new techniques to analyze the problems of flight through the mars atmosphere and DPLR is one solution that we’ve been searching for.

Rob Manning: Those challenges, those two extreme ends of the challenge can both be assessed with this tool, the DPLR tool that was developed up at Ames.

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James Reuther: You can think about DPLR as the first major piece of re-entry physics software, that has been used in real-time. DPLR is a stepping-stone if you will. In future missions it won’t just be DPLR. It will be its follow-ons, and its successors that will leverage that computational capability even more.

S. Pete Worden: This code is one of the key tools that is going to enable us to enter planetary atmospheres to both do science and figure out whether there’s life other places in the solar system. But more fundamentally, what we’re all about at NASA, is figuring out how to extend human presence into the solar system. The DPLR code is a major advancement. This is going to be the thing that’s going to enable us to put people safely on mars. People who will live and settle. This is really a major step forward in expanding human presence throughout the solar system.

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