Spacecraft Impact Testing & Hazards Analysis


Contact Information

Donald J. Grosch
Manager
Ballistics & Explosives Range
(210) 522-3176
dgrosch@swri.org

James D. Walker, Ph.D.
Director
Engineering Dynamics
(210) 522-2051
jwalker@swri.org

image: Simulated ISCL projectile (hollow cylinder positioned on rod) and the resulting damage to a 38-mm-thick 
					plate of 3003 aluminum

Simulated ISCL projectile (hollow cylinder positioned on rod) and the resulting damage to a 38-mm-thick plate of 3003 aluminum

 

image: Foam impact test on Space Shuttle wing

Foam impact test on Space Shuttle wing

 

image: Computer simulation of foam impact on RCC panel leading edge

Computer simulation of foam impact on RCC panel leading edge

 

image: Space Shuttle tile

Space Shuttle tile that has been impacted with a piece of the insulation material from the external tank

 

image: Typical hypervelocity impact crater in a Space Shuttle windshield panel, showing central crater and 
					circumferentially located microcrack ensembles

Typical hypervelocity impact crater in a Space Shuttle windshield panel, showing central crater and circumferentially located microcrack ensembles

 

image: ISCL facility during a test

ISCL facility during a test

A variety of testing and analysis capabilities to support the government and the commercial space industry are available at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Under NASA sponsorship, SwRI developed the Inhibited Shaped Charge Launcher (ISCL), a unique facility that launches aluminum projectiles with masses between 0.3 and 1.5 grams to velocities of more than 11 km/s. This system simulates orbital debris impact conditions on the Space Station and has been used to test and qualify numerous shield designs. A 2-stage light-gas gun is available for simulating a micrometeoroid impact or small orbital debris impacts.

Finite element and hydrocode computer codes are used to simulate low-velocity impacts through hypervelocity impacts for design and analysis purposes. Fracture analysis of pressurized modules has been conducted and supplemented by high strain rate materials testing. SwRI is internationally recognized for experimental and analytical impact studies against the Space Shuttle's thermal protection systems and wing leading edge.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) codes are used to simulate fuel release and mixing during failure (on-pad and in-flight) scenarios. Hydrocodes are used to simulate detonation of fuel plumes, resulting over-pressure, and fragment formation in support of crew escape studies.

Spacecraft Impact Testing Capabilities

  • Ballistics testing
  • Explosives testing
  • Materials testing, including high strain rate testing
  • High-speed digital video capture of impacts up to 200 million frames per second
  • Computer simulation of foam impact on RCC panel leading edge
  • Nicolet Multipro¬© high-speed data acquisition up to 200 MHz
  • Test fixture fabrication, machining, and welding
  • ISO-compliant QA
  • Explosion consequence analysis
  • Crew survivability
  • Launch vehicle design assessment

Spacecraft Impact Testing Experience

  • NASA Space Station orbital debris shield impact testing
  • Hypervelocity impacts on a wide variety of space components and materials
  • Simulated hailstone impacts on Space Shuttle thermal protection tiles
  • External tank foam impacts on Space Shuttle components including thermal protection tiles, reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) panels on the wing leading edge, and carrier panels
  • Scale-modeling analyses of ballistic missile defense impact scenarios
  • Hypervelocity impact modeling of spacecraft shields and lightweight armors
  • Development of velocity scaling concepts for DOD and NASA to extrapolate design curves
  • Characterization of impact damage to Space Shuttle windows
  • Detailed damage assessments
  • Development of damage maps
  • Orbital Space Shuttle explosive hazard environment
  • Constellation Ares vehicle assessment
  • Second generation shuttle launch vehicle assessment
  • Atlas V explosion hazard assessment
  • In-orbit thermal protection system repair assessment

Spacecraft Impact Testing Facilities

  • Ballistics and explosives test ranges
  • Materials test laboratories
  • Inhibited shaped charge launcher facility, 0.3 to 1.5 grams of aluminum to 11+ km/s
  • Portable instrumentation trailer
  • Digital flash X-ray systems with film processing capability
  • Machine shops and fabrication facilities
  • Compressed gas gun systems for low-velocity impact (hailstones, foam, etc.)
  • HPC computer clusters

Ballistics and Explosives Range

Related Terminology

spacecraft shielding  •  orbital debris  •  micrometeoroids  •  hypervelocity impact  •  NASA impact testing  •  spacecraft impact testing  •  inhibited shaped charge launcher  •  explosive launcher  •  two-state light-gas gun  •  thermal protection tiles  •  shuttle tiles  •  bumper shields  •  velocity scaling  •  ballistic missile defense  •  foam impact  •  crew escape analysis  •  explosion environment

Benefiting government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology
Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.
04/15/14