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Shuttle Infrared Leeside Temperature Sensing

The SILTS experiment will obtain high-resolution infrared imagery of the upper (leeward) surface of the orbiter fuselage and left wing during atmospheric entry. This information will increase understanding of leeside aeroheating phenomena and will be used to design a less conservative thermal protection system. SILTS provides the opportunity to obtain data under flight conditions for comparison with data obtained in ground-based facilities.

Six primary components make up the SILTS experiment system: (1) an infrared camera, (2) infrared-transparent windows, (3) a temper ature-reference surface, (4) a data and control electronics module, (5) a pressurized nitrogen module and (6) window protection plugs. These components are installed in a pod that is mounted atop the vertical stabilizer and capped at the leading edge by a hemispherical dome. (The SILTS pod replaces the top 24 inches of the vertical stabilizer.) Within this dome, the infrared camera system is mounted in such a way that it rotates to view the orbiter leeside surfaces through either of two windows-one offering a view of the orbiter fuselage and the other a view of the left wing. The camera is sensitive to heat sources from 200 to 1,000 F.

The camera's indium-antimonide detector is cooled to cryogenic temperatures by a Joule-Thompson cryostat. The camera's field of view is 40 by 40 degrees. Its rotating prism system scans four 100-line fields each second, with a 4-1 interlace, resulting in a 400-line image.

Each of the two infrared-transparent window assemblies consists of dual silicone windows constrained within a carbon-phenolic window mount. The windows and window mount assemblies are designed to withstand the entry thermal environment to which they would be subjected without active cooling. They are, however, transpiration cooled with gaseous nitrogen during experiment operation so that they do not reach temperatures at which they would become significant radiators in the infrared. A small thermostatically controlled surface between the two window assemblies provides an in-flight temperature reference source for the infrared camera.

The pressurized nitrogen system comprises two 3,000-psi gaseous nitrogen bottles and all associated valves and plumbing. The pressure system supplies gaseous nitrogen to the cryostat for camera detector cooling, to the external window cavities for window transpiration cooling, and to pin pullers that initiate the ejection of the advanced flexible reusable surface insulation window protection plugs upon SILTS activation to expose the viewing ports and camera.

The information obtained by the camera is recorded on the OEX tape recorder. The data, when reduced and analyzed, will produce a thermal map of the viewed areas.

The SILTS experiment is initiated by the onboard computers approximately five minutes before entry interface, which occurs at an altitude of approximately 400,000 feet. The camera operates for approximately 18 minutes through the forward-facing window and left-facing window, alternating evenly between the two about every five seconds.

After the six planned SILTS missions, an analysis of structural loads will determine whether the SILTS pod should be removed and replaced with the original structure or remain in position for other uses. The pod thermal protection system is high-temperature reusable surface insulation black tiles, whose density is 22 pounds per cubic foot.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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