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Hypervelocity Impact Events—Who Cares?



Hypervelocity impact events are generally defined as collisions that occur at velocities greater than a few kilometers per second, greater than the speed of sound in the material. Such impact events are relatively common in space, where even the smallest of particles or debris can cause significant damage when colliding at these speeds with satellites or manned spacecraft. However, the physics behind the formation of plasma, resulting from the hypervelocity impact, and the dynamics of its expansion that can cause electrical damage remain largely unknown. Experimental studies and numerical simulation are being performed in order to understand the underlying physical processes that occur upon formation and expansion of the impact plasma. This understanding will help to develop suitable impact measuring and analysis tools as well as new materials and designs for protecting man and machines in space. A hypervelocity impact (HVI) event also occurs when a kinetic warhead missile hits an enemy missile or target missile, such as the intercept missiles developed by countries for defense. The objective in this case is to maximize lethality, i.e., the ability to completely destroy an incoming missile threat. As in the spacecraft application, experimental studies and numerical simulation are being performed for missile impact events in order to understand the extent of lethality (i.e., the destruction of the enemy missile) and predict its effects (e.g., debris patterns, etc.). Stanford University is working to improve the understanding of the physical mechanisms driving the plasma expansion process and associated RF emission and their role in spacecraft failure. Invocon, Inc. has been pursuing the same understanding, but primarily for the purpose of assessing lethality and damage progression as it relates to missile intercepts. This paper provides an overview of the advancements made in HVI research by a major university and a research and technology company that have pursued the same objectives from different perspectives, and explains why HVI matters.

doi: 10.12783/SHM2015/359

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