Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Frank Lu


The pulsed detonation engine (PDE) is an advanced propulsion system that makes use of intermittent detonations to provide thrust. In recent decades, the PDE has been at the center of various propulsion research efforts focused on practical implementation of a reliable detonation-based engine for aerospace propulsion applications. However, many design challenges remain to be solved due to the PDEs unsteady operating characteristics. In particular, the unsteady nature of the thrust chamber flow field inherent to the PDE operation makes the design of nozzles aimed at adequately expanding the burned detonation products especially difficult. In order to address this design challenge, a series of related analytical, numerical, and experimental studies have been conducted, which are focused on investigating the manner in which the PDE propulsive performance is governed by the various gasdynamic processes occurring within the thrust chamber and nozzle flow fields. In this study, three primary PDE configurations are considered. These configurations include fully- and partially-filled PDEs, and PDEs equipped with diverging nozzles. For each configuration, a comprehensive description of the PDE flow field is provided, whereby details concerning the evolution and interaction of various gasdynamic waves and discontinuities are discussed. Additionally, the dominant gasdynamic processes within the thrust chamber and nozzle flow fields are identified, as these processes must be appropriately modeled in order to accurately evaluate the propulsive performance. The collision of a detonation wave with a contact surface separating detonable and non-combustible mixtures is a fundamental gasdynamic interaction process that takes place every cycle in the cyclic operation of the PDE. This interaction can drastically influence the evolving thrust chamber flow field and the subsequent propulsive performance metrics. To improve its understanding, this gasdynamic interaction is investigated analytically in order to predict the resulting transmitted shock wave properties, and the necessary conditions for a shock, Mach, or rarefaction wave to reflect at the contact surface. Concurrently, this interaction is investigated experimentally with the use of a detonation-driven shock tube. The analytical and experimental results indicate that the transmitted shock can either be amplified or attenuated depending on the reflection type at the contact surface, and the ratio of the acoustic impedance across the interface. A quasi-one-dimensional method of characteristics (MOC) model is developed to evaluate the single-cycle gasdynamic flow field and associated propulsive performance of general PDE configurations. The model incorporates the current detonation-contact surface interaction results in order to accurately treat the one-dimensional collision of a detonation wave with a contact discontinuity. Additionally, the MOC model is developed using a simplified unit process approach with an explicit inverse time marching algorithm in order to readily construct the complex thrust chamber flow field along a predefined grid. A thorough validation of the model is presented over a broad range of operating conditions with existing higher-fidelity numerical and experimental performance data for fully- and partially-filled PDEs, and PDEs equipped with diverging nozzles. This includes PDEs operating with a variety of detonable fuels, non-combustible inert mixtures, fill fractions, blowdown pressure ratios, and nozzle expansion area ratios. Lastly, a detailed discussion of the model limitations is provided, and particular operating conditions that lead to a breakdown of the assumptions used in the development of the model are addressed. A simplified analytical model is developed based on control volume analysis for evaluating the primary performance metrics of a general fully-filled PDE. The MOC model is used to justify and establish a simplified thrust relation based solely on the flow properties at the exit plane of a fully-filled PDE. A detailed analytical description of the thrust chamber flow field is provided, from which an analytical piecewise expression for thrust is derived based on the exit plane pressure history. This expression is then used to evaluate the specific impulse, total impulse, and time-averaged thrust of a fully-filled PDE. This simplified model is validated against the current MOC model and higher-fidelity numerical and experimental performance data for a variety of detonable fuels, equivalence ratios, and blowdown pressure ratios. Using the current MOC model, the single-cycle propulsive performance of partially-filled PDEs is investigated. The results of the detonation-contact surface interaction study are used to tailor the acoustic impedance of the non-combustible mixture at a fixed fill fraction in order to demonstrate the sensitivity of the thrust chamber flow field to the non-combustible acoustic impedance. Subsequently, the detonable fill fraction and non-combustible acoustic impedance are varied simultaneously in order to characterize the general partially-filled PDE performance. The partial-filling performance benefit is also investigated by varying the initial pressure and temperature of the non-combustible mixture in order to highlight the advantage of using a cold purge gas during operation, and disadvantage of operating in sub-atmospheric environments. It is demonstrated that the partially-filled specific impulse performance results generated with the MOC model from these various parametric investigations are successfully modeled using a previously developed scaling law, whereby this scaling law is extended in the current work to partially-filled total impulse and time-averaged thrust. Similarly, the single-cycle propulsive performance of PDEs with diverging nozzles is examined. A parametric investigation is conducted to characterize the combined effects of nozzle expansion area and blowdown pressure ratios on the resulting thrust chamber and nozzle flow fields. Detailed discussion of the transient nozzle flow field is provided in order to emphasize the influence of non-combustible acoustic impedance on the partial-fill effect in diverging nozzles. Moreover, a comparative study is used to demonstrate the performance advantages of a diverging nozzle in sub-atmospheric environments compared to a straight-extension nozzle. Lastly, a detailed parametric investigation is conducted by simultaneously varying the nozzle length, expansion area ratio, and blowdown pressure ratio in order to determine the optimum nozzle performance characteristics. An analytical model is formulated to predict the strength and motion of a transmitted shock wave through a general contour diverging nozzle for PDEs. The model is derived on the basis of a two-equation approximation of the generalized CCW (Chester-Chisnell-Whitham) theory for treating general shock dynamics in non-uniform channels. A major feature of the two-equation model is the ability to incorporate non-uniformity in the flow immediately following the shock wave, which turns out to be essential for describing the transmitted shock dynamics in PDE nozzles. This model is then used to demonstrate the effects of thrust chamber length on the magnitude of flow non-uniformity behind the transmitted shock entering the nozzle, and how drastically this can influence the nature of shock attenuation within the nozzle. Further, the shock dynamics model is used in conjunction with the MOC model to demonstrate how different nozzle wall curvature influences the PDE propulsive performance, due to the changes in transmitted shock attenuation and gasdynamic over-expansion in the nozzle flow field during the nozzle starting process.


Pulse detonation engine, Gasdynamic phenomena, Detonation, Shock, Partial filling, Diverging nozzle, Parametric study


Aerospace Engineering | Engineering | Mechanical Engineering


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington