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Reentry Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics Grades 9-12 The focus of the “Reentry Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics” subcommittee is the flight performance of vehicles that orbit planets or reenter planetary atmospheres. Orbital mechanics involves the motion of spacecraft, such as rockets and satellites, and includes interplanetary transfers and orbital maneuvers. Orbital mechanics is used by mission planners to design propulsive maneuvers. Figure 1 illustrates the interplanetary trajectory of the Cassini spacecraft from launch to arrival at Saturn. Atmospheric reentry occurs Figure 1 Source: NASA when a vehicle transitions from space to a planetary atmosphere. Vehicles designed to survive this reentry are termed “reentry vehicles”, and this subcommittee considers the aerodynamic performance, trajectory, deceleration, and attitude dynamics of these vehicles. Aerodynamics involves the prediction of forces produced on the vehicle by the atmosphere. Deceleration involves safely reducing the very high speed required for space flight. Trajectory and attitude Source: NASA Figure 2. Galileo Probe Entering the Atmosphere dynamics involves the prediction of the vehicle’s motion and control as it flies through the atmosphere. Reentry vehicles include interplanetary spacecraft and ballistic missiles. Figure 2 depicts the Galileo Probe entering an atmosphere at very high speed and decelerating by means of a heat shield and parachute. The highest speed for a man-made reentry was achieved by the Galileo Probe, which entered Jupiter’s atmosphere at over 105,000 miles per hour and experienced a peak deceleration of 230 g’s during reentry. Engineers that work in the area of “Reentry Vehicles and Orbital Mechanics” apply technical, scientific, and mathematical knowledge to the design of spacecraft, satellites, and rockets for spaceflight or atmospheric reentry. The design process can involve hand calculations, computer simulations, ground testing, and flight testing to predict the aerodynamics, deceleration, trajectory, and attitude dynamics of the vehicles. Measurements obtained during the actual flight of the finished vehicle are also used to compare with the pre-flight predictions to improve future predictions.