NASA is using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) data and a high-fidelity flight simulator to evaluate designs for its Orbital Spaceplane. The Virtual Flight Rapid Integration Test Environment (VF-RITE) at NASA Ames Research Center allows vehicle conceptual designs to be modified quickly based on inputs from test pilots.

The VF-RITE uses windtunnel and CFD data to create an aerodynamic model of the concept, which is programmed into the vehicle database of Ames' vertical motion simulator (VMS). This piloted flight simulator has 18m (60ft) of vertical and 12m of horizontal travel, enabling the device to generate realistic g-forces.

Once the vehicle is in the VMS database, the design can be modified and refined rapidly. "You can literally come up with any geometric change, press a button and you are flying another version of the machine," says VMS lead Julie Mikula. The Virtual Laboratory allows off-site participants access to the VMS displays via a high-speed link.

In the latest round of tests, the simulator was used to evaluate a tailless spaceplane design in an effort to reduce weight and drag. NASA has also tested a concept that departs from the traditional lifting-body design by using ultra-high temperature ceramics on the leading edges, allowing for a more aerodynamic and manoeuvrable design.


Source: Flight International