“This is not the crazy stuff,” says Sebastian Willems, as the researcher leads me past a glass case full of futuristic models of sleek silver spaceplanes at the German space agency’s (DLR) wind tunnel facility in Cologne. Nor is the crazy stuff to be found in the magnificently retro control gallery with its giant console of gauges, switches and knobs.
We enter a windowless room through a giant blast door, where the walls are charred and the air is rich with the disconcerting smell of explosives. This is where they test the aerodynamics of rocket engines.
But this isn’t the crazy stuff either.
No, Willems’ “crazy” experiment involves using one of the centre’s wind tunnels to simulate what happens when satellites re-enter the atmosphere.