Saturday, August 20, 2011

SGI Acquires OpenFoam

OpenFoam is probably the most mature open source CFD tool available. There are plenty of niche CFD projects on SourceForge, but none that have really been able to generate the user/developer community that OpenFoam has. OpenFoam recently made the news because SGI "purchased" it for an undisclosed amount.
"Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is one of the most important application areas for technical computing," said SGI CEO Mark J. Barrenechea. "With the acquisition of OpenCFD Ltd., SGI will be able to provide our customers the market's first fully integrated CFD solution, where all the hardware and software work together."
Basically, they hired all of the developers:
The entire OpenCFD team, led by Henry Weller, has joined SGI as full-time employees and will be based out of SGI's EMEA Headquarters located in the UK. SGI Acquires Maker of Open Source CFD Software
They also created the OpenFoam Foundation to ensure the continued development of OpenFoam under a GPL license. This is a very good thing for the development of OpenFoam to really take off. The foundation means that a true commons can develop around the software. SGI is clearly using OpenFoam as widget frosting, and they are selling support. This means their incentives line up with making the open version as good as it can be rather than crippling it in deference to a paid "pro" version. Good news for open source computational fluid dynamics.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Second HTV-2 Flight Test

The second HTV-2 test flight experienced a loss of telemetry about 9 minutes into the flight, very similar to the first test-flight. The post-flight analysis from the first flight indicated that inertia coupling caused the vehicle to depart stable flight (which lead the autopilot to terminate the flight). Here’s a relevant snippet from Bifurcation Analysis for the Inertial Coupling Problem of a Reentry Vehicle,

Inertial coupling has been known since around 1948 [1]. It is essentially a gyroscopic effect, occurring in high roll-rate maneuvers of modern high-speed airplanes including spinning missiles designed in such a way that most of their masses are concentrated in the fuselage. For such an airplane, a slight deviation of its control surface angle from the steady-state angle may lead to a drastic change in roll-rate, causing damage on its empennage; known as the jump phenomenon. Nonlinear analyses to elucidate this problem have been reported in [23], for example. However, the airplanes treated in these works are stable around the equilibrium point of level flight. On the other hand, an intrinsically unstable reentry vehicle, if combined with a malfunction of its AFCSs, may result in a catastrophe once it falls into a high roll-rate motion.

This does sound an awful lot like what happened to both of DARPA’s HTV-2 vehicles. Departure from controlled flight due to inertia coupling was the cause of a loss of crew in the early X-2 testing [4].

Simple explanations are usually not the reason for flight test accidents or mishaps. Experience has shown that there is usually a chain of events that lead to the mishap. Day gives a great summary of the combination of contributing factors that lead to the fatal X-2 test [4],

  • Optimum energy boost trajectory.
  • The rocket burn was longer than predicted by 15 sec and positioned the pilot further from Muroc Dry Lake than expected.
  • Decrease in directional stability as speed increased.
  • Decrease in directional stability with increased lift, leading to a reduced critical roll rate for inertial coupling.
  • Adverse aileron control (control reversal).
  • High positive effective dihedral.
  • Rudder locked supersonically.
  • Mass properties in window of susceptibility for inertial roll coupling.

Day describes the result of hitting an unstable region in the control parameter space:

At critical roll velocity, violent uncontrollable motions characteristic of inertial roll coupling occurred about all three axes.

At low-speeds this might be recoverable, but it is simply intractable to design a hypersonic aircraft to handle the loads this kind of rapid motion imposes on the vehicle structure. Eventually something gives, and this “jump” leads rapidly to catastrophic failure.

Day summarizes the reasoning for not modifying the X-2 for manned hypersonic flight,

The X-2 was unfortunately in the twilight zone of progress where rocket power, structural integrity, and thermodynamics were sufficiently advanced to push the aircraft to supersonic speeds. However, hydraulic controls and computerized control augmentation systems were not yet developed enough to contend with the instabilities.

And a relevant snippet from the more recent bifurcation analysis,

If it has unstable dynamics in the neighborhood of a trim point, a slight external disturbance or a slight deviation of control surface angles from their precise values at the trim point cannot allow the vehicle to stay at the trim point [5].

The flight regime that HTV-2 is operating in is unknown enough that it is difficult for designers to know before flight if the flight profile will put the vehicle into an unstable region of the control space. I thought the language that the program manager (a fellow AFIT alum btw) used to describe the post-flight analysis was interesting,

“Assumptions about Mach 20 hypersonic flight were made from physics-based computational models and simulations, wind tunnel testing, and data collected from HTV-2s first test flight the first real data available in this flight regime at Mach 20,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, HTV-2 program manager who holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering. “Its time to conduct another flight test to validate our assumptions and gain further insight into extremely high Mach regimes that we cannot fully replicate on the ground.” DARPA Press Release

I've noticed physics-based is a common meme for climate policy alarmists trying to shore-up the credibility of simulation predictions. There’s that same tone of, The Science Says..., which leads to unwarranted confidence in a situation of profound ignorance (unquantifiable uncertainty). I’ve also observed that program managers seem to take great comfort in the aura of a model that is “physics-based” as a talisman against criticism (“just look at these colorful fluid dynamics, you must be really stupid to question Physics…”). Of course, “physics-based” can be said of all sorts of models of varying fidelity. It is a vague enough moniker to be of great political or rhetorical use. Not that I think Schulz is one of these shady operatives since he goes on to say,

“we wouldn't know exactly what to expect based solely on the snapshots provided in ground testing. Only flight testing reveals the harsh and uncertain reality.”

As DARPA has been well informed by recent experience, ignorance becomes apparent only when confronted with the reality of interest. “Physics-based” is no guarantee of predictive capability.


[1]   Abzug, M.J. and Larrabee, E.E., Airplane Stability and Control. A History of the Technologies that Made Aviation Possible, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., Chap. 8, 1997.

[2]   Schy, A.A. and Hannah, M.E., “Prediction of jump phenomena in rolling coupled maneuvers of airplanes,” Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 14, pp. 375–382, April 1977.

[3]   Carrol, J.V. and Mehra, R.D., “Bifurcation analysis of nonlinear aircraft dynamics,” Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, Vol. 5, No. 5, pp. 529–536, 1982.

[4]   Day, R.E., Coupling Dynamics in Aircraft: A Historical Perspective, NASA Special Publication 532, 1997.

[5]   Goto, N. and Kawakita, T., Advances in Dynamics and Control, CRC Press, Chap. 4, 2004.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Latex for Blogger: Pandoc

The previous post showed some new math rendering tools for supporting Latex for Blogger. That still relied on htlatex (in the tex4ht package) for converting Latex into HTML. I just found another tool called Pandoc that converts between lots of different markup languages. Here’s the first paragraph from the manpage.

Pandoc is a Haskell library for converting from one markup format to another, and a command-line tool that uses this library. It can read markdown and (subsets of) Textile, reStructuredText, HTML, and LaTeX; and it can write plain text, markdown, reStructuredText, HTML, LaTeX, ConTeXt, RTF, DocBook XML, OpenDocument XML, ODT, GNU Texinfo, Medi‐ aWiki markup, EPUB, Textile, groff man pages, Emacs Org-Mode, and Slidy or S5 HTML slide shows.

Sounds promising. So, this post is written in Latex, and then I converted it to HTML with this command:

  [jstults@grafton pandoc]$ pandoc -f latex -t html -o pandoc.html pandoc.tex 

Here’s some test equations:
f(x) = x2

$\frac{\partial U}{\partial t} = \nabla U $

Φ  = ϕ - ∫ t0tf(τ) dτ

Friday, August 5, 2011

Computational Explosive Astrophysics

I got an update with an interesting set of slides on adaptive mesh refinement recently. I've always been more of a moving mesh kind of guy, but lots of people find the AMR approach useful. The slides are for a summer course on Computational Explosive Astrophysics. They have an index for the lecture notes where those slides came from. Last year's course was Galaxy Simulations.