sealPurdue Space Connections


August 1999

Space exploration drives energy innovation

Predictions that earth's supplies of oil and natural gas will run out in 50 years mean the clock is ticking for humankind to invent truly new forms of energy, such as those being developed for space exploration. "We are at a turning point," says John Rusek, assistant professor in aeronautics and astronautics. Possible future technologies range from engines that run on nonpolluting fuels derived from water, to nontoxic batteries filled with hydrogen peroxide, to space propulsion systems that use powerful electric fields instead of rockets. Rusek researches these concepts in collaboration with Stephen Heister, a Purdue professor in aeronautics and astronautics. Space exploration is pushing scientists to invent entirely new forms of power that might, for example, exploit stores of water on the moon and Mars, says Rusek, who teaches courses called Advanced Energy Conversion and Future Propulsion Concepts. CONTACTS: Rusek (765) 494-4782,; Heister, (765) 494-5126,

Purdue to have Mach 6 wind tunnel

Construction will be complete by early 2000 on the fastest low-noise research wind tunnel at any academic institution in the world. Purdue's Mach 6 wind tunnel will be capable of conducting experiments in airstreams traveling at six times the speed of sound. Steven Schneider and Steven Collicott, associate professors in aeronautics and astronautics, will use the $1 million facility to study how air flows over and around objects traveling faster than the speed of sound. One application of their research is the design of new reentry space vehicles. "Designers are considering a new reentry vehicle with a metal skin," Schneider says. "This would eliminate the tile system used on the space shuttle, which is expensive to maintain." CONTACTS: Schneider, (765) 494-3343;, and Collicott, (765) 494-2339 or (765) 494-5131;

Professor charts course for mission to study the sun

A Purdue professor and two doctoral students have designed the trajectory for an upcoming NASA mission. Kathleen Howell, professor of aeronautical and astronautical engineering, helped chart the course for the spacecraft that will carry out the Genesis Mission, scheduled for launch in 2001. The mission will collect solar wind particles -- material being swept out of the sun -- and return them to Earth for analysis. The trajectory Howell designed with students Brian Barden of West Lafayette and Roby Wilson of Vincennes, Ind., will put the spacecraft in "orbit" near a libration point nearly one million miles from Earth in the direction of the sun. A libration point occurs where the gravitational pull from two or more heavenly bodies, plus the centrifugal force from their rotation, cancel each other out. "These orbits are very complicated, much more complex than the orbit of a planet around the sun," Howell says. She says a spacecraft in orbit near a libration point offers a stable venue for making observations and taking data. CONTACT: Howell, (765) 494-5786;

Students prepare Vomit Comet experiments

Four teams of Purdue students will travel to Houston's Johnson Space Center during the first three weeks of August to participate in NASA's "Vomit Comet" flight program. "This type of hands-on experience is critical for our students. It allows them to see the dramatic leap from theory to reality," says Steven Collicott, associate professor of aeronautical and astronautical engineering. The teams were selected based on their proposed experiments. The experiments will test the effects of weightlessness on problems related to fluid mechanics, pressurization, vibration and the possibility of creating metal foam. The anti-gravity effect is created in a KC-135A jet that astronauts use to train for space flight. It flies in a series of parabolas to the upper atmosphere that allow the plane to free-fall for 25 to 30 seconds. The flights generally last for two to three hours and consist of about 40 periods of weightlessness. CONTACT: Collicott, (765) 494-2339 or (765) 494-5131;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The 30th anniversary of Purdue University alumnus Neil Armstrong's historic walk on the moon has generated new interest in space exploration and research. With 21 graduates chosen as NASA astronauts, Purdue has a long-standing connection to space exploration and research. Here are some story ideas about ongoing efforts to expand our reach in space. Additional information is available at the Purdue in Space Web site.

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