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NASA selects Panerai for Early Stage Innovation award


Debra Levey Larson

NASA recently announced its Early Stage Innovation awards.  Francesco Panerai, along with his co-principal investigator Laura Villafañe Roca, who are both faculty members in the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of just 14 recipients.

Francesco Panerai
Francesco Panerai

“Large parachute systems are a vital technology to Entry, Descent and Landing missions,” Panerai said. “Their development poses extraordinary challenges related to inflation dynamics, multi-body dynamics and the interactions between capsule wakes and the parachute during deployment and descent. Despite the recent advances in modeling and simulations of fluid-structure interaction phenomena, parachute design continues to rely on extensive ground and flight testing and predictive models are not mature enough for design and optimization. Computational capabilities have key gaps in their ability to account for all multiphysics and multi-scale phenomena that characterize parachute systems.”

Panerai said the lessons learned during recent programs, most notably the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator and Orion Capsule Parachute Assembly System, highlighted the need for improved design and analysis tools.

NASA Orion’s parachute is made by three canopies that features complex interaction during descent. Photo courtesy of NASA

“We will develop experiments that enable tailored validation of parachute fluid-structure interaction models,” Panerai said. “We’ll focus on both structural and fluid dynamics phenomena using modern experimental techniques that fully resolve the mechanical behavior and the flow field dynamics of parachute systems.

“The experiments will build upon recent advances in x-ray computed micro-tomography and novel image analysis techniques for fast and accurate quantification of tomographic data,” Panerai said. “Sub-scale wind tunnel experiments aided by multi-camera image reconstruction, high-speed imaging, and tomographic particle image velocimetry will be done to characterize coupled fluid and canopy dynamics at a wide range of time and length scales. Our experiments will target both single and clustered systems in subsonic regimes and shock/wake parachute interactions at supersonic speeds.”

ESI awards are part of NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants program. The goal of these awards is to accelerate the development of groundbreaking, high-risk/high-payoff space technologies to support the future space science and exploration needs of NASA, other government agencies, and the commercial space sector.