Tunnel 9 moves closer to 360-degree TSP capability

Air Force photograph

The team at AEDC Hypervelocity Tunnel 9, White Oak, Maryland, conducts a test on the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser using temperature-sensitive paint and the recently-developed plenum view capability prototype. The plenum view prototype allows for data collection from the windward side of a test article and moves Tunnel 9 closer to achieving a 360-degree TSP capability.

The team at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Md., has for some time considered a 360-degree capability for tests involving temperature-sensitive paint, or TSP, and has worked for about a year on ways to achieve it.

Thanks to recent innovations developed after a customer’s need provided a push, the Tunnel 9 team’s TSP capability is now one step closer to painting the entire picture on wind tunnel models. The team built a prototype system mounted in the plenum of the T9 test cell tunnel to allow for data collection from the bottom of the test cell – the most challenging view from an engineering perspective.

This recently-developed plenum view system prototype was successfully deployed for a test of the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser.

“So far all the data we’ve been getting looks really good and agrees very well with the discrete sensors as well as computational fluid dynamic predictions,” said Tunnel 9 Project Engineer Inna Kurits. “We feel it’s a great accomplishment given the short amount of time we had to put the prototype together to meet the customer objectives.”

TSP is a system consisting of a special paint, an ultra-violet illumination source and a scientific charge-coupled device camera to obtain surface temperature data. The paint is applied to the model in two layers – an undercoat and the TSP layer. The undercoat provides a uniform reflective surface for the TSP. The illumination source excites the TSP layer, which results in fluorescent light emissions with its intensity inversely proportional to the surface temperature on the model.

“In other words, the paint gets darker as it heats up and gets brighter as it cools off,” Kurits said. “A unique relationship between the emission intensity and paint temperature can be established through a calibration process and allows the paint to be used as a global surface temperature sensor. The measured surface temperature time histories can be used to compute surface heat transfer.”

Models tested at Tunnel 9 are completely coated in TSP. Equipment used to collect data from the TSP, such as the lights and cameras, is typically mounted on the top of the test cell and on one side allowing engineers to see half of the model, providing them with a 180-degree view.

Because the windward, or bottom, side of a test article is typically of the most interest to test customers, the models are usually mounted in an inverted fashion to allow viewing of the bottom of a model from the top of the test cell.

This conventional method would not work with the Dream Chaser model, however, as the Tunnel 9 team realized the test could not be conducted with the model inverted due to the angle-of-attack range of interest. The test pushed the team to develop a solution to the optical access limitation.

“This meant we would have to be able to image the windward side of the test article from the plenum of the tunnel as opposed to the top of the test cell, which is currently the standard mode of operation for TSP,” Kurits said. “We had an idea of how to get this done, but no working prototype, so we had to put one together in short order specifically for this test program.”

The SNC’s Dream Chaser is an under-development spacecraft designed to carry out commercial space transportation. According to the SNC website, the Dream Chaser Cargo System was selected in 2016 by NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract to transport pressurized and unpressurized cargo to and from the International Space Station with return and disposal services.

Under the CRS2 contract, Dream Chaser will provide a minimum of six cargo service missions to and from the ISS between 2019 and 2024. The Tunnel 9 test is in support of the CRS2 program.

The Tunnel 9 team had only months to develop the prototype in order to meet the customer need, but there would be challenges. The equipment in the plenum would have to operate under a vacuum. There is limited space within the plenum to position the necessary equipment. Even if the equipment could be successfully placed within the plenum, this equipment could not interfere with the tunnel pitch mechanism or the ability to open and close the test cell. Adjusting the equipment inside the plenum would also be difficult, as there is no physical access to the test cell once it is closed.

“We were able to identify cameras that could operate in a vacuum with water cooling as opposed to our standard cameras that use fans,” Kurits said. “The other piece of the puzzle was finding the UV LED lights that are powerful enough and small enough to allow effective illumination of the model from the small space available in the plenum.”

Tunnel 9 Optical Technician A.J. Spicer performed much of the lab work necessary to figure out how to cool the LEDs so they could be operated at full power in a vacuum without overheating.

“He also figured out how to package all the components in the small space available to us,” Kurits said.

Another challenge that presented itself to the team, and one they are continuing to work through, is data reduction.

“Going from the current system we have to a 360-degree system would double the amount of data we collect every run,” Kurits said. “The data processing starts taking a very long time and the files become very large.”

Kurits commended the work of Tunnel 9 Project Engineer John Juliano, who she said has done much work over the past year to streamline the Tunnel 9 data reduction processes and improve code efficiency. This will ultimately allow the Tunnel 9 team to process the large data volume associated with the 360-degree capability in the same amount of time as before.

Kurits said the team is not planning to deploy the 360-degree capability on the Dream Chaser test just yet, but the plan is to deploy a simultaneous top and bottom view and a view of one side during the next test, providing engineers with a roughly 270-degree view.

To achieve a full 360-degree data collection capability, lights and cameras would be needed on all four sides of the test cell. Kurits said this is the ultimate goal, and more equipment must be procured to reach that point.

“The advancement that will allow 360-degree TSP capability is putting cameras and lights on the bottom of the test cell, specifically in the plenum of the tunnel,” she said.

Once the 360-degree system is deployed, Tunnel 9 will be able to provide customers with a more complete data set, such as quantitative heat transfer over the entire surface of a model. This system would be among the other innovations at Tunnel 9 implemented to enhance efficiency and customer satisfaction.

“The technology is constantly improving,” Kurits said. “We are trying to keep our system class leading by keeping up with the improvements in camera and LED technologies. Newer cameras are smaller, faster, have higher resolution, and are cheaper. New LEDs have higher light output for the same power input. Newer computers can process larger volumes of data faster. All of these technologies result in improved data quality and efficiency, and hence, directly benefit the customer.”