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J Vis Exp. 2016 Jun 9;(112). doi: 10.3791/53742.

Emission Spectroscopic Boundary Layer Investigation during Ablative Material Testing in Plasmatron.

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Aeronautics and Aerospace Department, von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics; Research Group Electrochemical and Surface Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel;
Aeronautics and Aerospace Department, von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics.
Research Group Electrochemical and Surface Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.


Ablative Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) allowed the first humans to safely return to Earth from the moon and are still considered as the only solution for future high-speed reentry missions. But despite the advancements made since Apollo, heat flux prediction remains an imperfect science and engineers resort to safety factors to determine the TPS thickness. This goes at the expense of embarked payload, hampering, for example, sample return missions. Ground testing in plasma wind-tunnels is currently the only affordable possibility for both material qualification and validation of material response codes. The subsonic 1.2MW Inductively Coupled Plasmatron facility at the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics is able to reproduce a wide range of reentry environments. This protocol describes a procedure for the study of the gas/surface interaction on ablative materials in high enthalpy flows and presents sample results of a non-pyrolyzing, ablating carbon fiber precursor. With this publication, the authors envisage the definition of a standard procedure, facilitating comparison with other laboratories and contributing to ongoing efforts to improve heat shield reliability and reduce design uncertainties. The described core techniques are non-intrusive methods to track the material recession with a high-speed camera along with the chemistry in the reactive boundary layer, probed by emission spectroscopy. Although optical emission spectroscopy is limited to line-of-sight measurements and is further constrained to electronically excited atoms and molecules, its simplicity and broad applicability still make it the technique of choice for analysis of the reactive boundary layer. Recession of the ablating sample further requires that the distance of the measurement location with respect to the surface is known at all times during the experiment. Calibration of the optical system of the applied three spectrometers allowed quantitative comparison. At the fiber scale, results from a post-test microscopy analysis are presented.

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