Gas/Surface Interaction Study of Low-Density Ablators in Sub- and Supersonic Plasmas

Bernd Helber, Alessandro Turchi, Olivier Chazot, Annick Hubin, T.e. Magin

Research output: Contribution to journalOther scientific journal contribution


Selection and sizing of the thermal protection material (TPM) are the two key performance parameters in TPS design, and prediction inaccuracies can be fatal for the crew or the success of robotic missions. Ground testing in plasma wind-tunnels becomes a fundamental requirement for validation of material response codes, TPM qualification, and TPS design. Although present wind-tunnel technology does not allow a complete simulation of the hypersonic flight, specific phenomena can be studied separately in a narrowed environment, where dominant parameters, such as heat flux, pressure and the resulting boundary layer chemistry are close to the reentry environment.

Ablation experiments have been carried out with the carbon-phenolic material AQ61 and a non-pyrolyzing carbon fiber preform in sub- and supersonic air and nitrogen plasmas in the VKI Plasmatron facility. We performed an in-situ recession analysis, including volumetric ablation, and observed the temperature and radiance of the surface for emissivity estimations, as well as spatial molecular radiation profiles in the boundary layer, which were compared to a numerical approach. Surface temperatures as low as 1600K allowed observation of the temperature distribution over the surface using an infrared camera. The carbon preform test samples were varied in shape as well as regarding their fiber direction. Sublimation of the surface was reached in supersonic plasma flow at a cold wall heat flux of 9.5MW/m2. Carbon preform emissivities were found to be in the order of 0.86 - 0.97. A stagnation line description with an ablation boundary condition helped to reproduce experimentally measured boundary layer emission profiles of the CN violet molecule. In spite of the very simplified model, emission intensities were in the same order of magnitude compared to the experimental data. The model was able to reconstruct the location of the maximum emission for two cases.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWeb-Based seminar (available online)
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2014


  • ablation
  • gas/surface interaction
  • atmospheric entry flows


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