Washington: Researchers in Germany are now checking train brakes on a daily basis, which are crucial for safe rail journeys, using advanced technology that helps spacecraft return safely to Earth.
Railway personnel at Deutsche Bundesbahn simply connect the new automatic tester to the hydraulic brake clutches and select the train type.
The computer does the rest via a special sensor - a spin-off from spacecraft reentry research - to verify quickly if the brakes are OK or if they are leaking air.
The device draws on the special technique developed to determine the best trajectory for a spacecraft to enter Earth`s atmosphere. The result is more reliable testing which in the end guarantees safer train journeys.
It all started over 20 years ago when German company Hyperschall Technologie Gottingen (HTG), a specialist in aerodynamics, wanted to `fly` models of reentry capsules in their hypersonic wind tunnel.
"We can simulate the aerodynamics up to nine times the speed of sound of space capsules entering the atmosphere," HTG`s Prof. Georg Koppenwallner said.
"The maximum temperature increase as a result of the air flow can be determined by measuring the volume of the flow," he said.
Following the success with the custom air-flow meters, a neighbouring company having difficulties with standard commercial devices turned to HTG.
The company saw the business potential in spinning off its space technology and contacted MST Aerospace, the German technology broker for ESA`s Technology Transfer Programme Office.
Looking for technology solutions for a new automatic train brake tester, FEW Blankenburg GmbH - a German company providing maintenance service for rail material - contacted MST.
"FEW found that our flow meters meet their requirements on accuracy, liability and repeatability, and could be integrated into their test system for train brakes," Prof. Koppenwallner said.
"We assisted them in developing the tester and FEW succeeded in obtaining from Deutsche Bundesbahn a contract for a large number of these testers. We have now provided about 70 meters to FEW," he said.
The same meters could also offer high accuracy in leakage testing of pneumatic systems widely used on aircraft and cargo ships.