Development of a Test Bed for Ablation Research

Photo of E.J. Gibson, Collier Miers (Team Leader), Rachel Naylor, Ellen Woods
Students: E.J. Gibson, Collier Miers (Team Leader), Rachel Naylor, Ellen Woods

Sponsor: The University of Texas at Austin

Date: Fall 2012

Requirements:
The project requirements dictate a heat transfer of greater than 10 MW/m², a test area of 9 cm², and an accurate, precise, and stable translation platform for the sample. Constraints imposed on the project include a budget of $10,000, an overall size limitation of 1.5m x 0.75m x 1 m, and a maximum mass of 20 kg.

Problem:
Ablation testing is essential to providing safe and reliable insulating materials for use in atmospheric re-entry. The small-scale testing currently being conducted at UT Austin is important in the development of new ablatives because initial tests can be conducted more quickly and less expensively than large-scale testing facilities. The main goal of the design team's project is to design a new test bed for ablation research for testing larger samples at higher heat fluxes.

Solution:
Following the evaluation of several torch designs for use as the heat source in the test bed, the design group proceeded with the testing and analysis of a lampworking torch. Although the lampworking torch did not meet the 10 MW/m² requirement, additional research led the design group to recommend the use of a plasma cutting torch as the heat source. A plasma torch is similar in principle to the facilities where large-scale ablation testing is conducted. Since a specific sample will eventually undergo testing at a large-scale ablation testing facility, it is advantageous to develop a small-scale test bed the can expose samples to similar temperatures and gas compositions to those seen in an actual reentry. The design group also conducted a series of heat flux experiments determining the feasibility of achieving 10 MW/m² with the current setup.

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