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posted on 30.07.2021, 15:02 by Morgan D RueschMorgan D Ruesch

This work presents the development and/or application of several laser diagnostics for studying the flame structure of composite propellant flames. These studies include examining the flame structure of novel energetic materials with potential as propellant ingredients, the near-surface flame structure of basic composite propellants, and the global flame structure of propellants containing metal additives.

First, the characterization of the deflagration of various novel energetic cocrystals is presented. The synthesis and development of novel energetic materials is a costly and challenging process. Rather than synthesizing new materials, cocrystallization provides the potential opportunity to achieve improved properties of existing energetic materials. This work presents the characterization of the effect of cocrystallization on the deflagration of a 2:1 molar cocrystal of CL-20 and HMX as well as a 1:1 molar cocrystal of CL-20 and TNT. A hydrogen peroxide (HP) solvate of CL-20 as well as a polycrystalline composite of HMX and ammonium perchlorate (AP) were also studied. A physical mixture of each material was also tested for comparison. The burning rate of each material was measured as a function of pressure. Flame structure during self-deflagration was examined using planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) of CN and OH. The burning rate of the HMX/CL-20 cocrystal and the CL-20/HP solvate closely matched that of CL-20, but the burning rate of the TNT/CL-20 cocrystal was between the burning rate of its coformers. All HMX/AP materials had a higher burning rate than either HMX or AP individually and the burning rate of a physical mixture was found to be a function of particle size. The differences in the burning rate of the physical mixtures and composite crystal of HMX/AP can be explained by changes in the flame structure observed using PLIF. Burning rates and flame structure of the cocrystals were found to closely match those of their respective physical mixtures when smaller particle sizes were used (approx. less than 100 um). The results obtained demonstrate that the deflagration behavior of the coformers is not indicative of the deflagration behavior of the resulting physical mixture or cocrystal. However, changes in the resulting flame structure greatly affect the burning rate.

Next, PLIF of nitric oxide (NO) was utilized to characterize the near surface flame structure of composite propellants of AP and hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) containing varying particle sizes of AP burning at 1 atm in air. In all propellants, the NO PLIF signal was strongest close to the burning propellant surface and fell to a non-zero constant value within ~1 mm of the surface where it remained throughout the remainder of the flame. Distinct diffusion-flame-like structure was observed above large individual burning AP particles in the propellant containing a bimodal distribution of 400 and 40 um AP. In contrast, the flame of a propellant containing only fine AP (40 um) behaved like a homogeneous, premixed flame. The flame of the propellant containing a bimodal distribution of 200 and 40 um AP also showed similar behavior to a premixed flame with some heterogeneous structure indicating that, at this pressure, the propellant is approaching a limit where the particle sizing is small enough that the flame behaves like a homogeneous, premixed flame. Additionally, propellants containing aluminum were tested. No significant differences were observed in the NO PLIF behavior between the propellants with and without aluminum suggesting that, at these conditions, the aluminum does not have a significant effect on the AP/HTPB flame structure near the burning surface.

The effect of aluminum particle size on the temperature of aluminized-composite-propellant flames burning at 1 atm is also presented. In this work, measurements of 1) the temperature of CO (within the flame bath gas) and 2) the temperature of AlO (located primarily within regions surrounding the burning aluminum particles) within aluminized, AP-HTPB-propellant flames were performed as a function of height above the burning propellant surface. Three aluminized propellants with varying aluminum particle size (nominally 31 um, 4.5 um, or 80 nm) and one non-aluminized AP-HTPB propellant were studied while burning in air at 1 atm. A wavelength-modulation-spectroscopy (WMS) diagnostic was utilized to measure temperature and mole fraction of CO via mid-infrared wavelengths and a conventional AlO emission-spectroscopy technique was utilized to measure the temperature of AlO. The bath-gas temperature varied significantly between propellants, particularly within 2 cm of the burning surface. The propellant with the smallest particles (nano-scale aluminum) had the highest average temperatures and far less variation with measurement location. At all measurement locations, the average bath-gas temperature increased as the initial particle size of aluminum in the propellant decreased, likely due to increased aluminum combustion. The results support arguments that larger aluminum particles can act as a heat sink near the propellant surface and require more time and space to ignite and burn completely. On a time-averaged basis, the temperatures measured from AlO and CO agreed within uncertainty at near 2650 K in the nano-aluminum propellant flame, however, AlO temperatures often exceeded CO temperatures by ~250 to 800 K in the micron-aluminum propellant flames. This result suggests that in the flames studied here, and on a time-averaged basis, the micron-aluminum particles burn in the diffusion-controlled combustion regime, whereas the nano-aluminum particles burn within or very close to the kinetically controlled combustion regime.

The study of the effect of aluminum particle size on the temperature of aluminized, composite-propellant flames was then extended to characterize the same propellants burning at elevated pressures ranging from 1 to 10 atm. A novel mid-infrared scanned-wavelength direct absorption technique was developed to acquire measurements of temperature and CO in particle-laden propellant flames burning at up to 10 atm. The results from the application of this diagnostic are among the very first measurements of gas properties in aluminized composite propellant flames burning at pressures above atmospheric pressure. In all propellants, the flame temperature and combustion efficiency of the propellant flames increased with an increase in pressure. In addition, the propellants with smaller aluminum particle sizes achieved higher flame temperatures as the particles were able to ignite and react faster. However, the propellants containing nano-scale and the smallest micron-scale aluminum powders had similar global flame temperatures suggesting that at some point a decrease in particle size results in minimal gains in the overall flame temperature. The results demonstrate how well measurements of gas properties can be used to understand the behavior of the aluminum particle combustion in the flame.

Last, the design, development, and application of a laser-absorption-spectroscopy diagnostic capable of providing quantitative, time-resolved measurements of gas temperature and HCl concentration in flames of aluminized, composite propellant flames is presented. This diagnostic utilizes a quantum-well distributed-feedback tunable diode laser emitting near 3.27 um to measure the absorbance spectra of one or two adjacent HCl lines using a scanned-WMS technique which is insensitive to non-absorbing transmission losses caused by metal particulates in the flame. This diagnostic was applied to characterize the spatial and temporal evolution of temperature and/or HCl mole fraction in small-scale flames of AP-HTPB composite propellants containing either an aluminum-lithium alloy or micron-scale aluminum. Experiments were conducted at 1 and 10 atm. At both pressures, the flame temperature of the aluminum-lithium propellant, on a time-averaged basis, was 80 to 200 K higher than that of the aluminum-propellant (depending on location in the flame) indicating more complete combustion. In addition, the mole fraction of HCl in the aluminum-lithium propellant flame reached values 65-70% lower than the conventional aluminum-propellant flame at the highest measurement location in the flame. The measurements at both pressures showed similar trends in the reduction of HCl in the aluminum-lithium propellant flame but at 10 atm this occurred on a length scale an order of magnitude smaller than the flame at atmospheric pressure. The results presented further support that the use of an aluminum-lithium alloy is effective at reducing HCl produced by the propellant flame without compromising performance, thereby making it an attractive additive for solid rocket propellants.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Christopher S. Goldenstein

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Steven F. Son

Additional Committee Member 2

Terrence R. Meyer

Additional Committee Member 3

Robert P. Lucht