Exploration of Mars: Belgians help NASA


NASA has just signed a cooperation agreement with the von Karman Institute (VKI), a research and training centre that has specialised in fluid dynamics for 65 years.

This institute, located in Rhode-Saint-Genèse in Flemish Brabant, owes its name to the Hungarian-American physicist who calculated the altitude at which the earth's atmosphere becomes too weak for aeronautical applications. Theodore von Kármán moved to Rhode-Saint-Genèse after living in the United States in the 1930s and contributing to the Allied aerospace programme during World War II.

The institute has an international reputation for the study of fluid dynamics, i.e. the way gases and liquids move. Its crucial expertise in the aerospace and steel sectors allows it to work in partnership with major global players such as Bekaert, Umicore, Airbus, Sonaca, ArcelorMittal, General Motors and last but not least, NASA. NASA has been cooperating with the institute for several years now, through exchanges of doctoral students, for example. But this time, their collaboration has become structural and the stakes are high.

Mars on the horizon

The von Karman Institute will develop mathematical models and test the heat resistance of heat shields installed on spacecraft. The VKI teams will thus help their NASA partners to make spacecraft more resistant to their dangerous re-entry into the atmosphere.

Belgian expertise is on its way to Mars and maybe also Venus and Uranus!