NASA's Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment which took place at the Dryden Flight Research Centerat Edwards Air Force Base, Californiaand concluded November 1998. The experiment's goal was to provide in-flight data to help Lockheed Martinvalidate the computational predictive tools they are using to determine the aerodynamicperformance of a future potential reusable launch vehicle. Information from the LASRE experiment helped Lockheed Martin maximize its design for a future potential reusable launch vehicle. It gave Lockheed an understanding of the performance of the X-33lifting body and linear aerospike engine combination.
LASRE was a small, half-span model of the X-33's lifting body with eight thrust cells of an
aerospike engine, rotated 90 degrees and mounted on the back of an SR-71 Blackbirdaircraft, to operate like a kind of "flying wind tunnel." The experiment focused on determining how a reusable launch vehicle's engine plume would affect the aerodynamics of its lifting body shape at specific altitudes and speeds reaching approximately 750 miles per hour (335 meters per second). The interaction of the aerodynamic flow with the engine plume could create drag; design refinements looked to minimize that interaction.
During the flight research program the aircraft completed seven research flights. Two initial flights were used to determine the aerodynamic characteristics of the LASRE apparatus on the back of the aircraft. The first of those two flights occurred
October 31, 1997. The SR-71 took off at 8:31 a.m. PST. The aircraft flew for one hour and fifty minutes, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 and a maximum altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 m) before landing at Edwards at 10:21 a.m. PST, successfully validating the SR-71/pod configuration.
Five follow-on flights focused on the experiment; two were used to cycle gaseous helium and
liquid nitrogenthrough the experiment to check its plumbing system for leaks and to check engine operation characteristics. The first of these flights occurred March 4, 1998. The SR-71 took off at 10:16 a.m. PST. The aircraft flew for one hour and fifty-seven minutes, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 1.58 before landing at Edwards at 12:13 p.m. PST.
During three more flights in the spring and summer of 1998, liquid oxygen was cycled through the engine. In addition, two engine hot firings were conducted on the ground. It was decided not to do a final hot-fire flight test due to the liquid oxygen leaks in the test apparatus. The ground firings and the airborne cryogenic gas flow tests provided enough information to predict the hot gas effects of an aerospike engine firing during flight.
* Image gallery
** [http://www1.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Photo/SR-71-LASRE/index.html photographs]
** [http://www1.dfrc.nasa.gov/Gallery/Movie/LASRE/index.html movies]
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