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Tecplot Software Used in Design of Orion Heat Shield - 2015-12-16

Tecplot, Inc., a developer of data visualization and analysis software for engineers and scientists, today announced that its flagship product, Tecplot 360 EX, was used in the design of the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft.

Orion’s heat shield, a protective blanket built with high-tech fibers and ceramics, is crucial to mission success. The outer layer of the heat shield is designed to burn away as it heats up during re-entry into the atmosphere, thus maintaining the integrity of the inner layer and helping to ensure the survivability of the spacecraft.

Simulation of roll jets interacting with the incoming flow using DPLR with a SST turbulence model. Animation of temperature contours of the plume and on the vehicle’s surface shows potential heating augmentation on the aftbody of the Orion MPCV capsule. Image courtesy of

To predict temperature and airflow around the heat shield during re-entry, a team of engineers analyzed heat-shield materials in NASA Ames’ Arc Jet wind-tunnel and then compared the results with those generated by CFD (computational fluid dynamics) simulations. They then used Tecplot 360 EX as a post-processor to analyze, visualize and understand the CFD results.

The Tecplot software helped engineers visualize the simulations generated by two NASA-developed CFD solvers: DPLR, which stands for Data Parallel Line Relaxation; and LAURA, which stands for Langley Aerothermodynamic Upwind Relaxation Algorithm. The DPLR and LAURA tools simulate the physics of the extreme heat generated when an object enters Earth’s atmosphere.

The NASA team ran about 2,000 DPLR and LAURA simulations and analyzed those simulations with Tecplot 360 EX. The simulations tell the space agency how hot the heat-shield surface will get when entering the atmosphere based on the known physics of friction of the molecules in the atmosphere flowing over the heat shield. The team knows from other testing at what temperature the heat shield will melt, so if the simulations show the temperature staying below that mark they can safely predict that Orion will survive that part of the re-entry process.

About the Orion Program

NASA conducted the first test flight of the Orion Program late last year. If all goes according to plan, the Orion spacecraft will put humans on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars in the 2030s.

Unmanned for its first test flight, Orion was designed and constructed to travel farther into space than any other spacecraft intended to carry humans and through temperatures twice as hot as molten lava. The sole purpose of the flight was to test Orion’s critical systems under real flight conditions.

The next unmanned test flight of Orion is not expected until late 2017 or early 2018.

About Tecplot 360 EX

First released in 2014, Tecplot 360 EX is the most memory-efficient CFD post-processor available for desktop computers, requiring 92% less memory than earlier versions when loading modern high-fidelity CFD solutions.

Tecplot 360 EX supports newer versions of Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Pricing starts at $4,400 in the United States and Canada for a single-user perpetual license. A fully-functional free trial version is available at

About Tecplot, Inc.

Founded in 1981 by former Boeing engineers Don Roberts and Mike Peery, who today serve as CEO and chairman of the board, respectively, Tecplot is the leading developer of CFD visualization and analysis software for engineers and scientists. The privately held company’s products are used by more than 47,000 technical professionals around the world.

Tecplot, which is headquartered in Bellevue, Wash., has been named one of Seattle Business Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for three straight years.

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