Aerodynamic design, analysis, and validation of a supersonic inflatable decelerator
Clark, Ian Gauld
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Since the 1970's, NASA has relied on the use of rigid aeroshells and supersonic parachutes to enable robotic mission to Mars. These technologies are constrained by size and deployment condition limitations that limit the payload they can deliver to the surface of Mars. One candidate technology envisioned to replace the supersonic parachute is the supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (IAD). This dissertation presents an overview of work performed in maturing a particular type of IAD, the tension cone. The tension cone concept consists of a flexible shell of revolution that is shaped so as to remain under tension and resist deformation. Systems analyses that evaluated trajectory impacts of a supersonic IAD demonstrated several key advantages including increases in delivered payload capability of over 40%, significant gains in landing site surface elevation, and the ability to accommodate growth in the entry mass of a spacecraft. A series of supersonic wind tunnel tests conducted at the NASA Glenn and Langley Research Centers tested both rigid and flexible tension cone models. Testing of rigid force and moment models and pressure models demonstrated the new design to have favorable performance including drag coefficients between 1.4 and 1.5 and static stability at angles of attack from 0º to 20º. A separate round of tests conducted on flexible tension cone models showed the system to be free of aeroelastic instability. Deployment tests conducted on an inflatable model demonstrated rapid, stable inflation in a supersonic environment. Structural modifications incorporated on the models were seen to reduce inflation pressure requirements by a factor of nearly two. Through this test program, this new tension cone IAD design was shown to be a credible option for a future flight system. Validation of CFD analyses for predicting aerodynamic IAD performance was also completed and the results are presented. Inviscid CFD analyses are seen to provide drag predictions accurate to within 6%. Viscous analyses performed show excellent agreement with measured pressure distributions and flow field characteristics. Comparisons between laminar and turbulent solutions indicate the likelihood of a turbulent boundary layer at high supersonic Mach numbers and large angles of attack.