Towards robust aero-thermodynamic predictions for re-usable single-stage to orbit vehicles

Wuilbercq, Romain and Ahmad, Abdul Ossman and Scanlon, Thomas and Brown, Richard (2012) Towards robust aero-thermodynamic predictions for re-usable single-stage to orbit vehicles. In: 18th AIAA/3AF International Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies Conference, 2012-09-24 - 2012-09-28.

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Re-usable single stage to orbit launch vehicles promise to reduce the cost of access to space, but their success will be particularly reliant on accurate and robust modelling of their aero-thermodynamic characteristics. For preliminary design and optimization studies, relatively simple numerical prediction techniques must perforce be used, but it is important that the uncertainty that is inherent in the predictions of these models be understood. Predictions of surface pressure and heat transfer obtained using a new reduced-order model that is based on the Newtonian flow assumption and the Reynolds analogy for heating are compared against those of a more physically-sophisticated Direct Simulation Monte Carlo method in order to determine the ability of the model to capture the aero-thermodynamics of vehicles with very complex configuration even when run at low enough resolution to be practical in the context of design optimization studies. Attention is focused on the high-altitude regime where lifting re-usable Single-Stage to Orbit configurations will experience their greatest thermal load during re-entry, but where non-continuum effects within the gas of the atmosphere might be important. It is shown that the reduced-order model is capable of reproducing the results of the more complex Monte Carlo formalism with surprising fidelity, but that residual uncertainties exist, particularly in the behaviour of the heating models and in the applicability of the continuum assumption given the onset of finite slip velocity on surface of vehicle. The results suggest thus that, if used with care, reduced-order models such as those described here can be used very effectively in the design and optimization of space-access vehicles with very complex configuration, as long as their predictions are adequately supported by the use of more sophisticated computational techniques.