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The generation of systematic test cases for the validation of ablative-material response tools is often hindered by the restrictions typically present on the distribution of material properties and test data. The creation of real validation data, the compilation of a numerical test-case booklet, and its unlimited distribution, are the primary objectives of the ongoing activity funded by the European Space Agency described in this paper. The project includes both experimental and numerical tasks. The general objectives of the project and some preliminary results of the material-characterization campaign as well as the plasma testing are described in this paper. These preliminary results highlight the complexity of the material characterization activity when dealing with decomposing materials. In addition, the need for a reliable experimental setup to perform intrusive and non-intrusive measurements during the plasma wind-tunnel testing emerges as a challenging task taken up by the research team.
Thermal Protection Materials (TPM) such as carbon/phenolic composites are used to protect spacecraft structures from extreme conditions. This protection is, in part, achieved by the decomposition via pyrolysis of the phenolic resin. Finite rate chemistry models are however still unable to predict the chemical production rates and composition of the pyrolysis products accurately. This is mostly due to the scarcity of experimental data for model validation. In this work, the decomposition of a phenolic material representative of thermal protection material is studied in a unique micro-pyrolysis unit for the temperature range 300-800 °C. This unit is equipped with highly sensitive detectors allowing us to identify and quantify products in a broad range of molecular weights up to 240 g mol⁻¹. More than 50 different products of the pyrolysis of phenolic resin have been quantified with a mass balance closure greater than 80%. The major compound groups found are permanent gases, phenols as well as larger molecules such as diphenols and naphthalenes. In addition, the char yield obtained at the fast heating rates employed in our apparatus was found ∼5%-points lower compared to traditional thermogravimetry.
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