Microscale Modeling of Porous Thermal Protection System Materials

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Microscale Modeling of Porous Thermal Protection System Materials

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Ablative thermal protection system (TPS) materials play a vital role in the design of entry vehicles. Most simulation tools for ablative TPS in use today take a macroscopic approach to modeling, which involves heavy empiricism. Recent work has suggested improving the fidelity of the simulations by taking a multi-scale approach to the physics of ablation. In this work, a new approach for modeling ablative TPS at the microscale is proposed, and its feasibility and utility is assessed. This approach uses the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method to simulate the gas flow through the microstructure, as well as the gas-surface interaction. Application of the DSMC method to this problem allows the gas phase dynamics -- which are often rarefied -- to be modeled to a high degree of fidelity. Furthermore this method allows for sophisticated gas-surface interaction models to be implemented. In order to test this approach for realistic materials, a method for generating artificial microstructures which emulate those found in spacecraft TPS is developed. Additionally, a novel approach for allowing the surface to move under the influence of chemical reactions at the surface is developed. This approach is shown to be efficient and robust for performing coupled simulation of the oxidation of carbon fibers. The microscale modeling approach is first applied to simulating the steady flow of gas through the porous medium. Predictions of Darcy permeability for an idealized microstructure agree with empirical correlations from the literature, as well as with predictions from computational fluid dynamics (CFD) when the continuum assumption is valid. Expected departures are observed for conditions at which the continuum assumption no longer holds. Comparisons of simulations using a fabricated microstructure to experimental data for a real spacecraft TPS material show good agreement when similar microstructural parameters are used to build the geometry. The approach is then applied to investigating the ablation of porous materials through oxidation. A simple gas surface interaction model is described, and an approach for coupling the surface reconstruction algorithm to the DSMC method is outlined. Simulations of single carbon fibers at representative conditions suggest this approach to be feasible for simulating the ablation of porous TPS materials at scale. Additionally, the effect of various simulation parameters on in-depth morphology is investigated for random fibrous microstructures.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics. Advisor: Graham Candler. 1 computer file (PDF); 115 pages.

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Stern, Eric. (2015). Microscale Modeling of Porous Thermal Protection System Materials. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/175342.

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