Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Douglas Fletcher


Flexible thermal protection systems are of interest due to their necessity for the success of future atmospheric entry vehicles. Current non-ablative flexible designs incorporate a two-dimensional woven fabric on the leading surface of the vehicle. The focus of this research investigation was to characterize the aerothermal performance of silicon carbide fabric using the 30 kW Inductively Coupled Plasma Torch located at the University of Vermont. Experimental results have shown that SiC fabric test coupons achieving surface temperatures between 1000°C and 1500°C formed an amorphous silicon dioxide layer within seconds after insertion into air plasmas. The transient morphological changes that occurred during oxidation caused a time dependence in the gas / surface interactions which may detrimentally affect the in-flight performance. Room temperature tensile tests of the SiC coupons have shown a rapid strength loss for durations less than 240 seconds due to oxidation. Catastrophic failure and temperature spikes were observed on almost all SiC coupons when exposed to air plasmas at heat fluxes above 80 W/cm2. Interestingly, simulation of entry into the Mars atmosphere using a carbon dioxide plasma caused a material response that was vastly different than the predictable silica layer observed during air plasma exposure.



Number of Pages

311 p.