Characterization of ablative properties of thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer nanocomposites
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The advancement of each component of aerospace vehicles is necessary as the continual demand for more aggressive missions are created. Improvements in propulsion and guidance system electronics are invaluable; however without material development to protect the vehicle from its environment those advances will not have a practical application. Thermal protection systems (TPS) are required in both external applications; for example on reentry vehicles, as well as in internal applications; to protect the casing of rockets and missiles. This dissertation focuses on a specific type of internal solid rocket motor TPS, ablatives. Ablatives have been used for decades on aerospace vehicles. To protect the motor from the hostile environment, these materials pyrolyze and char. Both of these mechanisms produce a boundary between the combustion gases and the motor as well as release the heat that the decomposed material has absorbed. These sacrificial materials are intended to protect the casing that it is attached to. With the development of polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) in the last couple of decades, it is of interest to see how these two fields can merge. Three different nanomaterials (carbon nanofibers, multiwall carbon nanotubes, and nanoclays) are examined to observe how each behaves in environments that simulate the motor firing conditions. These nanomaterials are individually added to a thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer (TPU) at different loadings, creating three distinct families of polymer nanocomposites. To describe a materials ablative performance, a number of material properties must be individually studied; such as thermal, density, porosity, char strength, and rheology. Different experiments are conducted to isolate specific ablative processes in order to identify how each nanomaterial affects the ablative performance. This dissertation first describes each material and the ablative processes which are characterized by each experiment. Then basic material properties of each family of materials are described. Degradation and flammability experiments then describe the degassing processes. Studies of the material char are then performed after full blown rocket experiments are done. These tests have shown that of the three nanomaterials, nanoclay enhances the TPU ablative performance the most while the CNF provides the least enhancement.