It’s been more than 70 years since an airplane first broke the sound barrier, and yet supersonic flights remain mostly out of reach for civilian passengers, in large part because of the massive sonic boom when an aircraft hits supersonic speeds.
NASA wants to change that and in 2016 announced an initiative build an experimental airplane that can break the sound barrier without rattling windows. Some of the software it is using is also useful to private industry likewise interested in developing quieter supersonic jets.
Testing a new aircraft design in a wind tunnel is costly and time-consuming, and doing it virtually with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) helps reduce the burden. But early versions of the software were also time-consuming and costly to implement.
Michael Aftosmis at Ames Research Center devised a way to simplify and automate CFD processes, and Ames released the resulting software, Cart3D, in 2001. Aftosmis says it added a new way for engineers to use CFD: “Rather than just doing one solution that you try to extract a lot of data from, it makes it very easy for the engineer to do many solutions from which they can extract trends and behavior.”
The software is now used by every mission directorate, helping to simulate everything from the flight of the Space Launch System to what may happen as a meteor enters Earth’s atmosphere.
Desktop Aeronautics, now owned by Reno, Nevada-based Aerion Corporation, acquired the commercial license and added features to make it more user-friendly, creating a software package they market as GoCart.
“We’ve actually packaged Cart3D to be user-friendly enough that students are able to work with it in their design projects at universities,” says Aerion Technologies’ Colin Johnson.
Aerion uses the software for the design of a supersonic business jet, and it also sells the software to universities, government contractors, and commercial aerospace companies.