Intelligent Visual Simulation Facility for the Conceptual Design of Aerospace Vehicles

Long-term sustainable access to space can benefit from unconventional vehicle concepts, e.g. those utilizing reusable vehicles with air-breathing lower stages. Due to their complexity and the lack of flown precedents, the conceptual design of such vehicles poses an extraordinary challenge.

A design approach that provides the design team with rapid-turnaround, interactive means of exploring the design space before significant design decisions are made, that also takes into account the inevitable uncertainties present at the early stage of the design process, will facilitate finding technically feasible and economically viable solutions. The development of such an approach was facilitated by combining the experience and expertise of the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory of the Georgia Institute of Technology (ASDL www.asdl.gatech.edu ) in the areas of design methodology, stochastic approaches and access-to-space vehicle design with the intelligent software agents and immersive interrogative visualization competency of the Old Dominion University Center for Advanced Engineering Environments.

In particular, ASDL has developed a design methodology that provides a framework in which design alternatives with different technology sets can be assessed both from feasibility and viability points of view. ASDL researchers have also developed a tool dedicated to the rapid-turnaround, physics-based analysis of air-breathing access-to-space vehicles. This tool has already been applied by a graduate design team working on a multi-mission hypersonic vehicle architecture, which was awarded a first prize in a national design competition. It provides a unique asset with which to exercise the visual simulation approach envisioned under the research outlined in this project.

To advance the conceptual design process of unconventional access-to-space vehicles (e.g., crew exploration vehicles), the Center for Advanced Engineering Environments, in close collaboration with ASDL, is examining how design space exploration and intelligent visual simulation can best benefit those participating in the design process.

The framework for automating and integrating these processes was created using the Adaptive Modeling Language (AML) from TechnoSoft (www.technosoft.com). AML is a knowledge-based engineering modeling environment which enables the automation and integration of analysis and design processes. These capabilities were used to generate different air vehicle designs (geometry) and evaluate their aerodynamic merits using S/HABP. The AML framework was not only used for generating the air vehicle geometries and aerodynamic database, but was also used to visualize the results and integrate external codes (MatLab). The Center's intelligent software agents were used in conjunction with AML to provide an immersive interrogative visualization capability to be used in the conceptual design of an aerospace vehicle model provided by ASDL. AML also incorporates various tools to facilitate "what-if" trade studies - integrating and automating design, analysis, and optimization processes. It incorporates a web-enabled design environment linking concurrent users at distributed sites collaborating in product engineering.