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ESA and Thales Alenia Space to sign development contract for experimental reentry vehicle

Published by Rob Goldsmith on Fri Jul 17, 2009 10:24 am
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On 20 July, ESA will sign a contract with Thales Alenia Space Italy for the development of the European Experimental Reentry Testbed (Expert).

Set for launch in 2010, Expert will provide aerothermodynamic tool validation on the basis of actual flight data for a number of physical phenomena encountered by space transportation vehicles during their reentry phase in Earth’s atmosphere. It will also improve European competence in atmospheric reentry and associated technologies.

The Expert Vehicle

The Expert Vehicle

Developing improved space transportation systems requires increased confidence in the knowledge of such phenomena and a reduction of the design margins to increase system performance. The availability of detailed experimental data will allow the refinement of the aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic models and project tools.

Expert is conceived to provide these data through low-cost flight experimentation.

The Expert vehicle consists of:

  • a cold structure that hosts the avionic equipment and payload electronics
  • a thermal protection system, which is also a hot structure
  • power and data handling subsystems
  • a parachute system to ensure a soft landing
  • an inertial measurement unit
Illustration showing Expert during reentry

Illustration showing Expert during reentry

The payload will include a series of scientific flight measurement equipment, including classic and advanced techniques such as temperature, heat-flux and pressure sensors, spectrometers and an infrared camera.

Such experiments are being developed in cooperation by ESA and a number of scientific institutes across Europe and represent the state of the art in this technology.

The Expert trajectory and reentry velocity of 5 km/sec have been defined to achieve a flight environment compatible with the generation of the physical phenomena under study while matching the performance envelops of the European wind tunnels, thereby allowing a comparison of ground and flight data.

The measurements derived from the Expert mission and the design methodologies employed for its development will be of great help for the understanding of the aerothermodynamics and the design of future European atmospheric reentry missions, such as the Advanced Reentry Vehicle (ARV).

Expert development is being conducted under the responsibility of ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight by an integrated team including specialists from the Directorate of Technical and Quality Management.

The contract will be signed by Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, and Luigi Pasquali, President and CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italy (TAS-I), at ESA’s centre for Earth observation, ESRIN, in Frascati, Italy. Presentations of the project and its objectives will be made by TAS-I and ESA experts.

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