Analysis of Meteoroid Ablation Based on Plasma Wind-tunnel Experiments, Surface Characterization, and Numerical Simulations

Bernd Helber, Bruno Dias, Federico Bariselli, Luiza F. Zavalan, Lidia Pittarello, Steven Goderis, Bastien Soens, Seann J. McKibbin, Philippe Claeys, and Thierry E. Magin

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 876, Number 2


“Meteoroids largely disintegrate during their entry into the atmosphere, contributing significantly to the input of cosmic material to Earth. Yet, their atmospheric entry is not well understood. Experimental studies on meteoroid material degradation in high-enthalpy facilities are scarce and when the material is recovered after testing, it rarely provides sufficient quantitative data for the validation of simulation tools. In this work, we investigate the thermo-chemical degradation mechanism of a meteorite in a high-enthalpy ground facility able to reproduce atmospheric entry conditions. A testing methodology involving measurement techniques previously used for the characterization of thermal protection systems for spacecraft is adapted for the investigation of ablation of alkali basalt (employed here as meteorite analog) and ordinary chondrite samples. Both materials are exposed to a cold-wall stagnation point heat flux of 1.2 MW m−2. Numerous local pockets that formed on the surface of the samples by the emergence of gas bubbles reveal the frothing phenomenon characteristic of material degradation. Time-resolved optical emission spectroscopy data of ablated species allow us to identify the main radiating atoms and ions of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Surface temperature measurements provide maximum values of 2280 K for the basalt and 2360 K for the chondrite samples. We also develop a material response model by solving the heat conduction equation and accounting for evaporation and oxidation reaction processes in a 1D Cartesian domain. The simulation results are in good agreement with the data collected during the experiments, highlighting the importance of iron oxidation to the material degradation.”