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USQ hypersonics team to watch capsule re-entry

Jake Nelson
In the US for the NASA-led HORIS observation project are (from left) Professor David Buttsworth, Dr Byrenn Birch, Associate Professor Fabian Zander and Jeremy Moran.

A group of hypersonics specialists from the University of Southern Queensland will travel to the US to observe the upcoming re-entry of the OSIRIS-REx capsule.

Led by hypersonics expert Associate Professor Fabian Zander, the team – selected for its previous work on the Hayabusa2 re-entry in 2020 – will conduct observations from three ground stations and four aircraft as the capsule returns to Earth carrying asteroid material on 24 September, as part of the NASA-led HORIS project.

“The capsule will hit the atmosphere at around 12 kilometres per second, and our main interest will be in the aerothermodynamics of its re-entry,” said Associate Professor Zander.

“There will be a lot of useful data if we can get it, and it’s an educational opportunity; many of our team won’t have seen anything like this before.”


The USQ team will work alongside other crews from NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the University of Stuttgart, the University of Queensland, and several other domestic USA organisations to make the observations.

According to Associate Professor Zander, this will be the first time the team has worked on a daytime re-entry, with the capsule expected to hit atmosphere at around 8:40am local time in Utah.

“We will perform a lot of spectroscopy, looking at gas radiation including atomic emission lines and black body radiation from the capsule to determine its surface temperature,” he said.

“These measurements will be done with custom-built spectrographs, both from the ground and through the aircraft windows.


“The bulk of the spectral data will be used to provide feedback on future re-entry capsule design. We have models to predict how hot the surface temperature will get and how much heat the gas will radiate to the surface, but these can only be validated with real flight data. Any information that can help improve this will be very valuable.”

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security–Regolith Explorer spacecraft (OSIRIS-REx) was launched in 2016 to collect a sample of rocks and dust from a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu.

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