Following the breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia during reentry a NASA-wide investigation team was formed to examine the probable damage inflicted on Orbiter Thermal Protection System (TPS) elements by impact of External Tank insulating foam projectiles. Our team was to apply rigorous, physics-based analysis techniques to help determine parameters of interest for an experimental test program, utilize validated codes to investigate the full range of impact scenarios, and use analysis derived models to predict aero-thermal-structural responses to entry conditions. We were to operate on a non-interference basis with the j Team, and were to supply significant findings to that team and to the Orbiter Vehicle Engineering Working Group, being responsive to any solicitations for support from these entities. The authors formed a working sub-group within the larger team to apply the Smooth Particle Hydrodynamics code SPHC to the damage estimation problem. Numerical models of the LI-900 TPS tiles and of the BX-250 foam were constructed and used as inputs into the code. Material properties needed to properly model the tiles and foam were obtained from other working sub-groups who performed tests on these items for this purpose. Two- and three- dimensional models of the tiles were constructed, including the glass outer layer, the densified lower layer of LI-900 insulation, the Nomex felt Strain Isolation Pad (SIP) mounting layer, and the underlying aluminum 2024 vehicle skin. A model for the BX-250 foam including porous compression, elastic rebound, and surface erosion was developed. Code results for the tile damage and foam behavior were extensively validated through comparison with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) foam-on-tile impact experiments carried out in 1999. These tests involved small projectiles striking individual tiles and small tile arrays. Following code and model validation we simulated impacts of larger ET foam projectiles on the TPS tile systems used on the wings of the orbiter. Tiles used on the Wing Acreage, the Main Landing Gear Door, and the Carrier Panels near the front edge of the wing were modeled. Foam impacts shot for the CAB investigation were modeled, as well as impacts at larger angles, including rapid rotation of the projectile, and with varying foam properties. General results suggest that foam impacts on tiles at about 500 mph could cause appreciable damage if the impact angle is greater than about 20 degrees. Some variations of the foam properties, such as increased brittleness or increased density could increase damage in some cases. Rapid (17 rps) rotation failed to increase the damage for the two cases considered. This does not rule out other cases in which the rotational energy might lead to an increase in tile damage, but suggests that in most cases rotation will not be an important factor. Similar models will be applied for other impacting materials, other velocities, and other geometries as part of the Return to Flight process.
Spacecraft Design, Testing and Performance
42nd AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit; 5-8 Jan. 2004; Reno, NV; United States