Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Alumnus Manish Mehta’s mini rocket models

Posted: March 13, 2014

Alumnus Manish Mehta’s mini rocket models

Dr. Manish Mehta, who earned his PhD at AOSS, is using mini rocket models at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to better understand the heating conditions at the base of what will be the most powerful rocket ever built.

Models of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) core stage RS-25 engines and solid rocket boosters -- scaled down to just 2 percent of the actual size of the flight hardware -- have been designed, built and hot-fire tested at sea level conditions.

"Using scale models of the SLS core stage engines and boosters are not only cost-effective but also can fit in a wind tunnel," Mehta, lead engineer for the SLS Base Heating Test Program, told NASA. “Wind tunnel testing is one of the most proven ways to adequately simulate the pressure and heating an actual rocket will experience during ascent. We had to make sure these models achieve aerodynamic and rocket plume similarity with the real flight vehicle as close as possible."

Mehta said some of those challenges were to develop the engines and motors for short-duration testing -- with test-run times around 150 milliseconds. The team also used new engineering materials and design tools, including computational fluid dynamics -- numerical codes used to predict internal flow behavior in the engine.

"Without computational fluid dynamics, we'd be blind," Mehta said. "The codes were extremely crucial on determining the design of these rocket engine models. Our team numerically investigated several different design iterations, until all performance requirements were satisfied for a final design."

"We also had the opportunity to use high-speed, high-resolution visible and infrared cameras -- technology that wasn't available on past programs," Mehta added. "The visible video camera alone -- almost 500 times faster than a regular camera -- was integral in verifying the design and similarity to the actual flight plumes."

The first flight test of the SLS in 2017 will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an un-crewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130-metric-tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system to places such as an asteroid and ultimately Mars.

To read the full story from NASA, please click here.

Photo: Artist rendering of the RS-25 engines and boosters powering the liftoff of the 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity configuration SLS from the pad. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

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