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- The thermal protection materials used for spacecraft heat shields are subjected to various thermal-mechanical loads during an atmospheric reentry which can threaten the structural integrity of the system. This paper discusses the development of a novel technique to understand the failure mechanisms inside the thermal protection material, Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA). PICA has successfully flown on the Stardust spacecraft and was the TPS material chosen for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), that will fly in 2011. Although PICA has good thermal properties, structurally, it is a weak material. To thoroughly understand failure in PICA, experiments were performed using FiberForm(Registered TradeMark) (precursor of PICA), virgin and furnace-charred PICA. Several small samples were tested inside an electron microscope to investigate the failure mechanisms. Micrographs were obtained before and after the failure in order to study crack initiation and growth. Videos were obtained to capture failure mechanisms in real time. Stress-strain data was obtained simultaneously for all the samples with the help of a data acquisition system, integrated to the mechanical stages. It was found that cracks initiated and grew in the FiberForm when a critical stress limit was reached such that the carbon fibers separated from the binder. However, both for virgin and charred PICA, crack initiation and growth occurred in the matrix (phenolic) phase. Both virgin and charred PICA showed greater strength values compared to FiberForm coupons, confirming that the presence of the porous matrix helps in absorbing the fracture energy.
- NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) Collection.
- Document ID: 20110016513.
42nd AIAA Thermophysics Conference; 27-30 Jun. 2011; Honolulu, HI; United States.
- Copyright, Distribution under U.S. Government purpose rights.
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