Computational Modeling of Contamination on Spacecraft During Pre-Launch

Whether we are engineers working in the aerospace field or not, we can all appreciate the feeling of comfort when we see a space mission at the end of its landing or orbit parking. But like many things in life, every journey has a start. More importantly for space missions, the beginning strongly impacts the success of the whole mission while the paramount importance is on the payload that will perform the useful activities of the mission.

ESA Huygens landing on Titan in 14 January 2005

In relation to the topic of this post, the assessment of spacecraft surface in view of contamination is a critical topic. The rocket, fairing and the payload inside is faced with a number of effects even before the rocket lifts off the surface of the earth. For spacecraft and its subsystems, particulate contamination can cause a number of problems such as;

  • Scatter from optics
  • Absorption and Emittance changes
  • Noise and short circuit on electrical circuits

These can result in catastrophic events and cause mission failure even before it begins. Therefore, it is quite important to be able to accurately predict and address these potential problems beforehand.

Left – ESA-CNES-ARIANESPACE – Encapsulation in the fairing of Soyuz Fregat – 2016

Right – NASA’s Magnetospheric MultiScale – Brieda et.al. 2010

The estimation of contamination can rely on data collected during past projects, but the level of uncertainty in the environment is quite high from the encapsulation of the spacecraft in the fairing until launch. Perhaps the best approach to address this uncertainty is to use a dedicated software that is able to analyze and model the particle environment. Such software can make use of a wide range of computational approaches from fluid dynamics such as Navier-Stokes and Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC). Moreover, in order to make adjustments and improvements to the baseline design, enhanced decision making approaches such as optimization, sensitivity analysis and uncertainty quantification can be adopted.

In the end, having computational capabilities that help quantify these effects are very important. Although dedicated tools require a considerable amount of work, they are able to help protect valuable equipment and assess conditions and requirements for guidance to the teams behind launch and spacecraft safety. Several community codes can be considered to be used as a baseline capability on which customized technology can be built. Some well known software can be listed as; OpenFoam, Sparta, Dakota, Gmsh and SU2

In the following blogs, we will share more topics related to the technical challenges and state-of-the-art solutions faced in the aerospace and energy sectors.  

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