Hypersonic Research – the Rocket as a Flying Wind Tunnel

Large members of the sounding rocket family can be brought to speeds above Mach 12 and thereby provide invaluable testing time at true atmospheric conditions and hypersonic speed. Conventional wind tunnels that are able to attain such speeds achieve testing times of a few milliseconds, while the rockets achieve testing times of up to one minute.

Investigation of new concepts for re-entry into the atmosphere of space transport systems: SHEFEX flight test programme (Sharp Edge Flight Experiment)

The aim of SHEFEX is to test new thermal protection concepts for returning space vehicles and reducing their manufacturing and maintenance costs. The SHEFEX flight test programme tests a sharp-edged design with new thermal protection components and innovative control concepts and attitude determination. Special care is taken with the instrumentation and installation of numerous sensors for measuring aerodynamic effects and the performance of the space vehicle upon re-entry into the atmosphere.

The sharp-edged shape of SHEFEX provides two essential benefits. Firstly, its concept provide for a simpler and more reliable heat shield as the simple shape of the SHEFEX tiles makes for lower costs for maintenance of the heat shield of space vehicles (a Space Shuttle has more than 25,000 differently shaped tiles). Even a simple replacement in space would be conceivable. The faceted shape also results in improved aerodynamic properties. Together with the active cooling system, completely new possibilities for European space flight arise.

SHEFEX I was successfully launched on 27 October 2005 from the launch pad at the Andøya Space Center in Norway with a two-stage sounding rocket on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The SHEFEX II mission was launched successfully from the testing site at the Andøya Space Center (ASC) in northern Norway on 22 June 2012. The second flight in the German Aerospace Center’s SHEFEX programme further investigated the sharp-edged design with new types of thermal protection and active control.

SHEFEX II was used to test nine different thermal protection systems, largely developments from fibre-reinforced ceramic composite materials from the German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart and Cologne. In comparison to metallic materials they are considerably more heat resistant, extremely light and maintain their shape even at high temperatures. However, even experiments of the German space travel industry (EADS Astrium and MT Aerospace), the University of Stuttgart and international partners (Boeing) found a space in the faceted external skin.

MORABA Involvement

  • Aerodynamic layout
  • Flight profile (Mach 7, 90–20 km, 30 s)
  • System for attitude determination and control
  • Rocket motors and recovery system
  • Launch activities
  • Flight test