This tunnel can reproduce the velocity and
altitude conditions affecting a fighter aircraft. It can even reach 14 times the speed of sound.
Here in Belgium we can investigate what a spacecraft undergoes on earth and even in
space. “A piston compresses the flow. For Mars
conditions we use CO2. To simulate the return to earth it is air. The special thing about
this wind tunnel is that it works for a very short time. We are talking about a fraction
of a second, and during this period we can actually take measurements of pressure, flow,
forces and moments on models.” At the von Karman Institute in Brussels researchers
study certain scientific phenomena and their aeronautics and aerospace applications. For
example, they may consider the resistance of an aircraft wing to velocity and heat.
They put forward “We serve the two areas, both the civil
and military. We call this dual, so we study physical models that are applicable both for
the military and civil sides – high-speed aircraft, air intakes, but also transport,
re-entry, space applications.” So the von Karman Institute is a concentration
of grey cells working full out. It has existed for 55 years, and is partly financed by the
NATO nations. The researchers base their work on results
developed by computer, but above all they use 50 advanced installations to validate
the tests. An indispensable stage, making it possible for example to send a rocket into
space in full confidence… This particular equipment is the plasmatron.
It is the only one of its kind, and can generate heat to reach 10,000 degrees Celsius. “This is a plasma installation which simulates
conditions on re-entry, the conditions at very high speed approaching a planet, when
you enter the planet’s atmosphere.” “You re-enter the atmosphere at about 100
km altitude. You start to dive into the atmosphere and then you are slowed down as the layers
get denser. And as you slow things heat up. There’s a shock wave in front and after
the shock wave the air gets very hot.” And to understand how a material reacts to
such heat, the researchers place it inside the installation. A little further on, young scientists are
studying the effects of the laser on the flows. For, each year, the Institute hosts students
from NATO countries who come to receive training and do research.
Sergio for example is Italian. He is 30, and pursuing his turbine engineering thesis at
the Institute. Like more than 50 other students he is following courses given by the establishment.
This working environment is good for his professional development. “I believe that working in this place is
really rewarding because you have the opportunity to perform the research at high level. At
the same time you have the opportunity to work with younger searchers but also with
experts, professors who can lead your research and I feel that I have the possibility to
propose my ideas and experiment what I feel can be an improvement to my research. I have
the opportunity to access a high quality teaching and working at the same time in an international
environment with people from all NATO countries.” So the aim is to cooperate, to share ideas
and knowledge and advance research in the field of fluid dynamics.
This covers all phenomena bound up with the forces of wind and water which can act on
components. Research which represents a real investment
for the future. Laetitia Chadenat for Natochannel in Brussels