Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Douglas Fletcher


In the design of a thermal protection system for atmospheric entry, aerothermal heating presents a major impediment to efficient heat shield design. Recombination of atomic species in the boundary layer results in highly exothermic surface-catalyzed recombination reactions and an increase in the heat flux experienced at the surface. The degree to which these reactions increase the surface heat flux is partly a function of the heat shield material. Characterization of the catalytic behavior of these materials takes place in experimental facilities, however there is a dearth of detailed computational models for the fluid dynamic and chemical behavior of such facilities.

A numerical model coupling finite rate chemical kinetics and high temperature thermodynamic and transport properties with a computational fluid dynamics flow solver has been developed to model the chemically reacting flow in the inductively coupled plasma torch facility at the University of Vermont. Simulations were performed modeling the plasma jet for hybrid oxygen-argon and nitrogen plasmas in order to validate the models developed in this work by comparison to experimentally-obtained data for temperature and relative species concentrations in the boundary layer above test articles. Surface boundary conditions for wall temperature and catalytic efficiency were utilized to represent the different test article materials used in the experimental facility. Good agreement between measured and computed data is observed. In addition, a code-to-code validation exercise was performed benchmarking the performance of the models developed in this dissertation by comparison to previously published results. Results obtained show good agreement for boundary layer temperature and species concentrations despite significant differences in the codes. Lastly, a series of simulations were performed investigating the effects of recombination reaction rates and pressure on the composition of a nitrogen plasma jet in chemical nonequilibrium in order to better understand the composition at the boundary layer edge above a test article. Results from this study suggest that, for typical test conditions, the boundary layer edge will be in a state of chemical nonequilibrium, leading to a nonequilibrium condition across the entire boundary layer for test article materials with high catalytic efficiencies.



Number of Pages

153 p.