Shuttle Discovery Re-entry Thermal Image From HYTHIRM Team

HYTHIRM Principal Investigator: Tom Horvath: "The Hypersonic Thermodynamic InfraRed Measurements (HYTHIRM) team, based at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., was again successful in obtaining spatially resolved thermal images of the space shuttle Discovery (STS-128) as it re-entered Friday evening, Sept.11.

This is the team's third favorable quantitative thermal mission: STS-119/Mach 9/Boundary Layer Transition Flight Experiment #1; STS-125/Mach 15; and now STS-128/Mach 15/ Boundary Layer Transition Flight Experiment #2. This last Shuttle mission was once again a challenge as the HYTHIRM mission control team located at NASA JSC had to make the KSC/EDW landing site call 6 hours before the actual decision by the Flight Director (transit times of the Navy aircraft will not permit support to a KSC landing along with a possible diversion to the west coast on the same day).

The imagery from the current STS-128 mission were obtained by a very talented and dedicated Cast Glance crew onboard a Navy P-3 Orion. Based upon the pre-entry Shuttle trajectory, the HYTHIRM team has estimated the imaging aircraft was located approximately 30 nm away from the Shuttle as Discovery passed by at approximately Mach 15 (~ 2 miles a second) during its return to Edwards AFB. Mother Nature provided a little cooperation and kept a hurricane out in the Pacific (and high cirrus clouds) at arms length.

The HYTHIRM team was able to acquire a total of 8 minutes of uninterrupted imagery, horizon to horizon, with long-range acquisition estimated at Mach 19 to just below Mach 9. Initial inspection of the imagery near the point of closest approach clearly revealed the high temperature footprint behind the BLT wing protuberance flown on this mission.

In the next few months the HYTHIRM team will be taking the new 2-D intensity images and post process them into 3-D surface temperature maps based upon our calibrations of the optical system onboard the Navy aircraft. Global temperature maps of the entire Shuttle windward surface will be compared to onboard thermocouple measurements and ultimately to Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to improve the Agency's capability for designing more cost effective thermal protection systems.

The NASA Langley led HYTHIRM Project was jointly sponsored by the NASA Space Shuttle Program Office, NASA Engineering Safety Center, NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and the NASA CEV AaeroSciences Project and team consists of individuals from the U.S. Navy, NASA JSC/KSC and a myriad of supporting contractors including ATK, JHU/APL, CSC/ISTEF and the Clay Observatory."

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