Oxidation is one of the main decomposition mechanisms of fibrous carbon/phenolic ablators employed in thermal protection systems for planetary entry capsules. The oxidation process is driven by two competing mechanisms: diffusion of reactants within the porous medium, and reaction rates at the surface of the fibers. These mechanisms are characterized by the Thiele number. Given that the Thiele number varies during an atmospheric entry, we aim to understand the effects of the diffusion/reaction processes on the decomposition of a porous carbon material in various regimes. We use a particle method for simulations of the oxidation process at microscale. The movement of oxygen reactants is simulated using a Brownian motion technique, and heterogeneous first-order reactions at the surface are modeled with a sticking probability law. To enable simulations of the fiber decomposition on actual materials, we use digitized computational grids obtained using X-ray micro-tomographic imaging. We present results for the oxidation of the substrate of the material used on the Mars Science Laboratory capsule that landed the Curiosity rover. We find that the depth of the reaction zone for this material is critically dependent on the Thiele number.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/alexandre_martin/59/