Colloquium: October 4, 2011

Keeping an Eye on the Shuttle During Reentry – the HYTHIRM Project

Mr. Thomas J. Horvath, Principal Investigator, Aerothermodynamics Branch, NASA Langley Research Center

TUESDAY: October 4, 2011 2:00 P.M. in theĀ ** Pearl Young Theater **


The successful landing of Space Shuttle “Discovery” landing on August 9th 2005 capped a challenging multi-year effort by the Agency to safely return the Shuttle to flight following the Columbia tragedy in February 2002. Just days prior to Discovery’s entry however, an unprecedented space walk to repair damage to the Shuttle had to be performed. Managers deemed this inherently risky procedure necessary due to uncertainties in engineering tools designed to assess damage. To improve these engineering and modeling tools for use on future spacecraft designs, Langley researchers formed the Hypersonic Thermodynamic Infrared Measurements (HYTHIRM) team. The team sought to obtain thermal snapshots of the Shuttle’s exterior temperatures during descent. The Project’s principal Investigator, Tom Horvath, will provide a behind the scenes look at how the team trained to undertake this complex mission. Using actual footage, the presentation will highlight how a Navy NP-3D Orion aircraft was strategically positioned below the Shuttle during several reentries to remotely monitor heating using a specialized long-range infrared camera. Mr. Horvath will highlight how thermal observations of the Shuttle collected during seven missions over the last two and a half years, will provide engineers with a unique source of flight data for reducing the uncertainty associated with present day numerical modeling methods. Suggesting a future path forward, Mr. Horvath will highlight how the technology was used to support the maiden flight of the SpaceX Dragon capsule on Dec 8, 2010.


Thomas J. HorvathMr. Tom Horvath is a senior research engineer in the Aerothermodynamics Branch (AB) of the Research & Technology Directorate (RTD) at the NASA Langley Research Center, where he has worked for 25 years. During his professional career, the results of Mr. Horvath’s research have been published in over 100 agency, conference and journal publications and have impacted the design and flight of many Agency, DoD, and industry aerospace vehicle programs. Of particular significance are Mr. Horvath’s scientific/technical contributions to the Shuttle Columbia accident investigation. For exemplary contributions to understanding of Space Shuttle Orbiter aerothermodynamic phenomena which were critical to the Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation and the subsequent safe entry of Discovery’s Return-to-Flight mission, Mr. Horvath was recognized by the Agency in the form of an Exceptional Engineering Medal in 2005 and an Agency Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal in 2006. More recently, Mr. Horvath supported a multi-center/industry team that provided real-time flight support to the Shuttle damage assessment team. Tom is now principal investigator of a large team obtaining quantitative infrared measurements of the Shuttle during entry using advanced optical imaging systems.