PASQUALE SORRENTINO / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PASQUALE SORRENTINO / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Plasma Wind Tunnel. Exterior view of the SCIROCCO Plasma Wind Tunnel (PWT) facility at CIRA, Italy's aerospace research centre. The PWT generates a jet of plasma (super-heated ionised gas) to replicate the conditions experienced by spacecraft when they re-enter Earth's atmosphere. The jet can be up to 2 metres wide, reach temperatures of over 10,000 degrees Celsius, and speeds of Mach 12. The power requirements are a massive 70 MW (megawatts). The PWT itself is only a few metres long, though a large array of support buildings and equipment is needed. The PWT is used to test thermal protection materials used in the heat shields of spacecraft. CIRA, founded in 1984, is in Padua, Italy.
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