Thermal plasma wind tunnels with power of 0.4 MW and 2.4 MW have been constructed at Chonbuk National University (CBNU) in Korea. This facility is capable of producing a heat flux greater than 10 MW/m2, a level that is relevant for testing thermal protection materials that are used for re-entry vehicles in space transportation. A segmented arc plasma torch was adopted as a plasma source; this was designed to have high thermal efficiency and long life, and to produce a supersonic plasma flow with enthalpy greater than 10 MJ/kg. We investigated the characteristics of the supersonic plasma flow using intrusive and non-intrusive diagnostic systems. Ablation characteristics of potential thermal protection materials such as carbon/carbon composites and graphite were investigated with the plasma wind tunnel. Cracks and pores in the materials accelerated the erosion. For carbon/carbon composites, the pores grew and the cracks which occurred at the interfaces between the carbon fibres and the matrix propagated, while for the graphite, the erosion started at the pores and peeled off the surface.
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