On 24th July 1969, the heroes of the Apollo 11 Mission returned to Earth. This Wednesday, 50 years later, another important step has been done in the history of space exploration: The European Shock-Tube for High-Enthalpy Research (ESTHER) was inaugurated at Técnico – CTN campus. The Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor, the Representative of the European Space Agency (ESA-ESTEC), Guillermo Ortega, the President of Portugal Space, Chiara Manfletti, the President of Loures City Hall, Bernardino Soares, the Vice-rector of Universidade de Lisboa, José Manuel Pinto Paixão and the President of Técnico, Arlindo Oliveira, attended the ceremony.
“This is a unique infrastructure in Europe and I am glad that Técnico hosts this Shock-Tube facility”, said the president of Técnico.
“Today is a great day for Portugal and for the European space programme” said Guillermo Ortega, who also stressed that the Hypersonic Plasmas Laboratory – where ESTHER is installed – is very important for future ESA’s projects, namely for the exploration of Neptune and Uranus.
The tube has 20 meters long and reaches a speed above 10 kilometers per second. It is most likely that the tube exceeds 600 times the atmospheric pressure on Earth. The simulation of the top-of-atmosphere is done through a high pressure gas chamber and a low pressure gas chamber. Between these two chambers, there is a diaphragm that broken and let the gas flow from the high to the low pressure zone, thus creating a shock wave that passes through the tube at speeds of several kilometers per second.
“Portugal is highly involved in ESA’s relevant projects and has been considering space exploration a wonderful driver for international cooperation, for technology and for science, which is very important for the future”, said Chiara Manfletti.
According to the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education “the Portuguese government has the ambition of multiplying by 10 the participation of Portugal in activities related to space exploration, which will allow to also multiply the number of qualified employment in this area, thus showing society that science creates jobs”.
Mário Lino da Silva, Principal Investigator of ESTHER, shared information about the Shock-Tube: “This tube has several innovations. It has high performance, which was something that did not exist in Europe. Now, the European Space Agency can plan interplanetary missions in an independent way”.
One of the most important innovations of ESTHER is its ignition system. “We replaced the entire ignition system of the machine by a very thick and reinforced glass window. The laser ignition system is located outside, which will keep the facility extremely clean because it has no longer any source of pollution”, said Mário Lino da Silva.
“We have already started a lot of projects with ESA, and we have to start responding to all requests”, says Mário Lino da Silva. The tests already scheduled include aero-thermodynamic databases, Earth reentry simulations and Venus entering simulations. Tests will also take place for the future Mars Sample Return and for NASA and ESA mission that will explore Uranus and Neptune.