Morphing Waveriders for Atmospheric Entry
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The primary challenge for vehicles entering planetary atmospheres is surviving the intense heating and deceleration encountered during the entry process. Entry capsules use sacrificial ablative heat shields and sustain several g deceleration. The high lift produced by the Space Shuttle geometry resulted in lower rates of heating and deceleration. This enabled a fully reusable vehicle that was protected by heat shield tiles.
Hypersonic waveriders are vehicles that conform to the shape of the shock wave created by the vehicle. This produces high compression-lift and low drag, but only around a design Mach number. Atmospheric entry can reach speeds from zero to as high as Mach 40. A morphing waverider is a vehicle that deflects its flexible bottom surface as a function of Mach number in order to preserve a desired shock wave shape. It was demonstrated in this work that doing so retains high aerodynamic lift and lift-to-drag ratio across a wide range of Mach number.
Numerical simulations were conducted for case-study waveriders designed for Mach 6 and 8 for flight at their design conditions as well as with variations in angle-of-attack and Mach number. A single-species air model was used between Mach 1 and 12 with the RANS k-omega SST and LES-WALE turbulence models. A seven-species air model was used for Mach 15 at 60km altitude and Mach 20 at 75km.
Analytical methods were used to construct a reduced-order model (ROM) for estimating waverider aerodynamic forces, moments, and heating. The ROM matched numerical simulation results within 5-10% for morphing waveriders with variations in angle-of-attack, but discrepancies exceeded 20% for large deviations of rigid vehicles from their design Mach numbers.
Atmospheric entry trajectory simulations were conducted using reduced-order models for morphing waverider aerodynamics, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) capsule, and the Space Shuttle. Three morphing waveriders were compared to the Space Shuttle, which resulted in reduced heating and peak deceleration. One morphing waverider was compared to the MSL capsule, which demonstrated a reduction in the peak stagnation heat flux, a reduction in the peak and average deceleration, and a reduction in the peak area-averaged heating.