Hypersonic impacts

Replicating phenomena in space and earth’s atmosphere

Our laser-launched flyer plates are tiny hypersonic vehicles that are easy to study on a tabletop.  Hypersonic vehicles encounter micrometeorites in space and air, dust and rain in the atmosphere.  Of particular interest is an encounter with a water droplet or ice particle.  The vehicle develops a bow shock in air that changes the angle of incidence and distorts or breaks up the water droplet.  During the impact, the water is transformed into an extremely corrosive liquid at high temperature and pressure that can erode a crater in the vehicle’s sensor window.

Defense related applications

Hypersonic missiles scream down onto targets at such a high velocity that they are nearly impossible to destroy or evade.  Emerging hypersonic interceptors carry a high explosive warhead to damage or deflect the missile.  Unlike ordinary bombs, the warhead on the interceptor, made from plastic-bonded explosive and tungsten particles, does not just fall on the target.  The kinetic energy of the warhead on the interceptor can be even larger than the explosive energy.  This leads to new chemistry and new mechanical phenomena.  We can build arrays of tiny missiles with realistic warheads to study how they interact with and damage targets.