MAE research scientist recognized by NASA Engineering and Safety Center

Posted: August 24, 2021

MAE Research Scientist Kevin Disotell has been recognized as part of a team that recently received a 2020 NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) Group Achievement Award. The recognition comes about from his participation on the ground-floor of the team during his time as a postdoctoral researcher at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Dr. Disotell is also an alumnus of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He earned his B.S. and Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering in 2010 and 2015. Disotell returned to Ohio State as a research scientist in experimental aerodynamics in June of 2021.

The NESC Group Achievement Award was given to the Commercial Crew Program Launch Vehicle Ground Wind Loads Assessment Team that Disotell served on while he was a postdoctoral researcher in the Flow Physics and Control Branch at NASA Langley – the first civilian aeronautical laboratory established in the United States in 1917. The team received the NESC award “in recognition of outstanding technical achievement in the evaluation of the Ground Wind Loads and Wind-Induced Oscillation for Commercial Crew Program launch vehicles.”  The mission of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center is to perform value-added independent testing, analysis, and assessments of NASA’s high-risk projects to ensure safety and mission success.

At NASA Langley, Disotell’s home branch received a request from colleagues in the Aeroelasticity Branch to contribute their expertise to the design of a turbulence generator system. The system would provide needed test capability to support the structural design and validation of space launch vehicles in the NASA Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT).

The TDT is a large wind tunnel facility, capable of flight-representative test conditions for aircraft and space launch vehicles. The team’s goal was to mimic the atmospheric wind profile and turbulence that interact with a stationary space launch vehicle on the ground pad. These conditions can lead to wind-induced oscillations that if not accounted for in the structural design, could cause the vehicle to break apart.

Photo of turbulence-generating spires and floor roughness elements installed in the TDT with instrumentation rake in the foreground, looking upstream
Photo of turbulence-generating spires installed in the TDT with instrumentation rake in the foreground, looking upstream

Typically, testing done for ground wind loads in large facilities is based on uniform wind approaching the test model. Disotell’s team was interested in more realistic conditions, tailoring turbulence and pressure to be similar to those seen at various launch sites at different altitudes. This non-uniform wind testing is more commonly done in smaller wind tunnels. It’s believed that conducting these kinds of tests with the challenges of large-scale models had never been done before.

Disotell, who was working on fundamental experiments for turbulence modeling, helped design the turbulence generator devices and measure their performance. After designing these devices and putting them through a one-of-a-kind test, Disotell was pleased to see the results matching the design estimates.

“After building these large turbulence-generating devices and troubleshooting their own structural response in the tunnel, it was really satisfying to see the measured wind data hugging the target curves,” Disotell said. “Being able to contribute as a member of the team to add capability to a historic facility like the TDT, which has been involved in major aircraft and space-launch vehicle test programs since the early 1960s, was truly a privilege.”

Disotell has since translated his work at NASA to the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He brings his experience from being part of the planning, coordinating, executing and reporting phases on two large-scale NASA test programs to Ohio State.

“It’s the work I’m doing every day as a researcher at OSU, with each project being its own version of that environment, and also integrating the education and training mission with student involvement in research,” said Disotell.

Disotell said he is still awestruck by the ability to measure and calculate forces and sounds due to moving air, as he continues his work at Ohio State now in the areas of automotive aerodynamics and aeroacoustics within the research group of Professor Lian Duan.