Posted on 8th June 2017: Future ESA Space Exploration Projects: Earth Return Capsules and Celestial Resource Exploitation

FGE has been actively supporting ESA in preparation for future space exploration missions. Key areas involve the maturation of Earth Return Capsule (ERC) technologies and research into Celestial Resource Exploitation using regoliths.

ERC Technologies
FGE have contributed to flight tests performed by Vorticity Ltd in the form of capsule shape selection and the exploitation of flight data (update aerodynamic databases). Aerodynamic databases and stability assessments were performed using our in-house trajectory code TRAJ6D. Flights tests were achieved by using a high-altitude balloon drop offering an excellent environment to study the subsonic and transonic stability of prospective ERC capsules (a critical aspect of high speed Earth return capability). These test were highly successful in defining the capsule stability characteristics (an activity that is very challenging in ground test facilities).


Image courtesy of Vorticity

Resource Exploitation
FGE are providing calculations to assist the design and planning of the sample analysis phase of future space exploration missions. The preservation of regolith volatiles (most notably water) is particularly important as a resource for future exploration missions. This work is being performed for the Open University in support of the ESA PROSPECT programme which is scheduled to be flown on the ESA/ROSCOSMOS Lunar-Resurs 1 mission.

We are actively pursuing regolith contamination and surface alteration studies to calculate the effect of thruster plume impingement on mission and science requirements. Calculations have been performed to support the L-VRAP instrument; these methods are also applicable to the analysis aspect of PROSPECT.

FGE are also leading an activity to quantify regolith contamination by thruster plumes experimentally. Here mono and bi-propellant thrusters are being fired within the STG-K facility in DLR Goettingen to expose regolith analogues to representative in-space plume impingement conditions. We anticipate some unique data from this activity to support future mission requirements for the study and/or exploitation of celestial regoliths.


Image courtesy DLR


Posted on 6th June 2017: FGE performs in-space thruster plume calculation to support spacecraft impingement assessments

FGE performed freely expanding plume calculations for the LEROS-10 bi-propellant thruster for Nammo Westcott Ltd in support of the ESA/CNES NEOSAT programme. The work necessarily involved performing hybrid CFD-DSMC simulations due to the large range of rarefaction (continuum to free molecular) encountered in this problem. NEOSAT aims at developing, qualifying and validating in orbit next-generation satellite platforms for the core satcom market. A crucial objective for Neosat is to reduce the cost of a satellites in orbit by 30% compared with today’s designs by the end of the decade.


Image courtesy of Nammo Westcott Ltd


Posted on 25th May 2017: The Schiaparelli landing investigation has completed

A summary report has been released which confirms that: "Correct entry and aero braking in the Martian atmosphere" was completed successfully by the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander. More over: "The dynamic conditions at the moment of parachute deployment derived from telemetry showed a total angle of attack (AOA) estimated of about 6.5 deg and a lateral angular rate < 3 deg/s". This is well within the design-limit criteria for successful parachute deployment.

In contrast to Beagle2, telemetry data has enabled an examination of the hypersonic entry phase to be performed by ESA and NASA/JPL. The findings of this investigation demonstrates that the FGE led international consortium successfully delivered the aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic activities required to achieve a successful Martian entry. Observational data indicates that a successful Martian entry was also achieved for Beagle2. These successes extend FGE's flight-proven heritage for planetary entry applications.


Heatshield sensors
(copyright ESA/ATG medialab)


Posted on 10th April 2017: First Flight of ESA SUPERMAX Capsule

The SUPERMAX capsule flew for the first time from Esrange Kiruna on Friday the 7th of April. The capsule is designed to ride piggy-back on the Maxus Sounding Rocket, achieving an apogee of approximately 700km before returning to Earth where it has to pass through a period of hypersonic heating at Mach 10 before decelerating to speeds suitable for supersonic parachute testing (the capsule's main technology drive). FGE contributed hypersonic aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic calculations (databases) for the capsule and provided consultancy support to the thermal management of the payload. The capsule was designed and built by Vorticity Ltd (another UK SME) making the project a huge success for UK small enterprise.

The capsule was recovered after a successful supersonic parachute test and all engineering data was successfully recovered. Both Vorticity and FGE anticipate further use of the capsule design for continued re-entry system technology developments.


SUpersonic Parachute Experiment Ride on MAXus (SUPERMAX)
(copyright Vorticity Ltd)


Posted on 24th October 2016: Schiaparelli Entry declared an early success by ESA

“The first analysis suggests that most of the steps required for the entry and descent were successfully completed, particularly the deceleration from 21,000 kilometers per hour (13,000 mph) at the top of the atmosphere down to having the probe suspended on its parachute,” said David Parker, director of ESA’s human spaceflight and robotic exploration division at a post flight press briefing on 20th October 2016, ESOC Darmstadt.

See also this article quoting ExoMars project scientist Jorge Vago for latest thinking from ESA regarding possible failure scenarios.

Despite crash landing on the surface of Mars following premature parachute ejection and thruster shut down, the ExoMars Amelia team believe much of the scientific data needed (99%) has been successfully collected and will eventually be available for analysis: an outcome that would not be possible without a successful entry phase.

FGE led an international team of specialists from industry and academia responsible for all aerodynamic and aerothermodynamic activities for the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander, who reported to the overall system prime Thales Alenia.



Posted on 17th October 2016: The Schiaparelli probe arrives at Mars on Wednesday 19th October 2016

Fluid Gravity Engineering were the prime contractor for the aero-thermal studies supporting the atmospheric entry to Mars as discussed briefly here.


Overview of Schiaparelli's entry, descent and landing sequence on Mars
(copyright ESA/ATG medialab)


Posted on 16th January 2015: Beagle2 has been found intact on the Martian surface after 12 years, vindicating the EDLS design

FGE was at the forefront of the Beagle2 design activities. We performed capsule shape optimisation, aerodynamic and aerothermal database construction and entry trajectory calculations. Today's announcement is available here.

We are currently responsible for aerodynamics and aero-heating on the planned 2016 Exomars demonstration lander. This, together with the feasibility study which determined the aeroshape of the successful Huygens Titan lander, means that we are now the most experienced European planetary entry-capsule aerothermodynamics team.

Beagle2 model on a simulated Mars surface
(taken from the link above)