NASA Perfects Pyrotechnics for Space Flight

By Kara L. Gray

July 14, 2006

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface in 1969, he made more than a historic and enduring mark on the surface of the moon; he made a monumental impact on the collective imagination of the world. After nearly 40 years, NASA is preparing for another journey to the moon — and beyond — with a new class of explorers sure to strike a whole new generation with the same overwhelming sense of awe and wonderment.

In the volatile realm of space travel, pyrotechnics are both a necessary evil and a force to be reckoned with. An explosion on a monumental scale is essential during liftoff to achieve the extraordinary thrust required to break through and escape the earth’s gravity. However, any unexpected or unplanned pyrotechnics can be cataclysmic for the mission and its crew.

The Quest for Controlled Destruction

Few understand this pyro-proposition better than pyrotechnic engineer Christopher W. Brown at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Brown works with the team of engineers responsible for the design, testing and implementation of pyrotechnics for a variety of space exploration initiatives, including the Constellation Program, which will send human explorers back to the moon and onward to other unexplored parts of the solar system.

“Pyrotechnics is popular in aerospace when it comes to one-time actuation or separation,” Brown says. “One example is the frangible nut, which is used to separate the space shuttle from the external fuel tanks.”

The frangible nut, critical to the separation process, is designed to fracture when the command is given to activate explosive charges in order to achieve a clean and thorough separation of the external fuel tanks once their propellant is exhausted. The idea is to blow it apart when necessary, with as little collateral damage as possible.

“I call it controlled destruction,” Brown says. “There is a lot of shock and debris that need to be contained. It is a very tricky balance. We need to have the nut or the separation structure strong enough to hold the pieces together, but brittle and weak enough to fracture when commanded.”

The Test before the Test

In order to achieve the proper design of the components, determine the precise amount of combustion required without going overboard, and predict the behavior of the debris field to prevent incidental damage, NASA is using finite element analysis (FEA) software from MSC.Software in concert with visualization software by CEI, Inc. of Apex, NC. The goal is to produce 3D simulations of various test scenarios to ultimately design a means to control the end results.

Using MSC’s Dytran to model the various applications, NASA imports the results into CEI’s EnSight for post processing, where they are converted into graphical images and movies that can be shared with colleagues. Using this process, Brown’s team is able to simulate proposed design modifications and other variables to predict behavior under certain conditions before any “live” testing takes place. In the case of a shuttle launch, for example, the results can have life-altering implications.

“The simulations will give you an idea of what could happen,” Brown says. “We want to know as much about the possible outcomes before conducting a real test, to get a heads up on what to watch out for and what to avoid.”

In one such experiment, Brown and his team are working to perfect a newly designed back-up release mechanism for a new docking system to be put in place on the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Orion is expected to fly its first mission to the International Space Station by 2014 and carry the next generation of astronauts to the moon by 2020. The mechanism works by using a charge to apply pressure at one side, which engages a piston release system that allows the bolt to slip out, with no metal fracture.

Modeling this procedure allows thorough testing of each and every component to achieve the flawless operation critical for space travel. Before any testing took place, Brown was able to identify some hang-ups in the parts, modify the design and rerun the simulations until it worked. In the end, the live testing was quite successful.

In the case of the frangible nut, the objective is that the explosive allows the nut to break apart correctly instead of blowing the energy in the wrong direction. With two boosters on each side of the nut (the second in place only for redundancy), Brown tests one booster at a time.

“In one design test, the nut was shaped differently and the booster just blew out the frangible section without having the energy directed to separate the nut,” Brown says. “That analysis enabled us to change the design for the actual application from what was originally designed.”

Powerful Combination Yields Powerful Results

The one-two punch of MSC and CEI’s avant-garde software allows NASA to achieve accurate results in an easily viewable format. EnSight is able to seamlessly and quickly import the Dytran files for post processing. They can be viewed as motion pictures or frame by frame for thorough analysis.

Annotations can be included in the resultant images and adjust color contours to emphasize certain results or variables and achieve the desired graphical image. This output is then used for collaboration among fellow engineers and the test area.

Included in the EnSight suite is CEI’s EnLiten, a free 3D viewer used for analyzing and manipulating complex visualization scenarios. It can capture the results and display them in motion and from any angle without needing to be reprocessed from scratch. And it can be viewed on any computer without installing any extra software.

“Using a 3-D viewer provides a quick way of viewing motion and rotation at any angle without having to start the post processing all over again,” Brown says. “It allows you to view the animation, not just like a video, but something that you can rotate and move around.”

For more information

MSC.Software’s Dytran overview: http://www.mscsoftware.com/products/dytran.cfm?Q=396&Z=287&Y=387

Human Space Flight: The Shuttle — External Tank Separation System: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/shutref/orbiter/sep/sepsystem.html

NASA Constellation Program: Orion Crew Vehicle: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/orion/index.html

MSC.Software signs agreement with CEI enhancing graphics visualization for SimXpert: http://www.ensight.com/msc.software-signs-agreement-with-cei-enhancing-graphics-visualization-for-sim.html

—–

Source: CEI Inc.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This