Computational fluid dynamics, cfd, uncertainty analysis, environmental control systems


Spacecraft thermal protection systems are at risk of being damaged due to airflow produced from Environmental Control Systems. There are inherent uncertainties and errors associated with using Computational Fluid Dynamics to predict the airflow field around a spacecraft from the Environmental Control System. This paper describes an approach to quantify the uncertainty in using Computational Fluid Dynamics to predict airflow speeds around an encapsulated spacecraft without the use of test data. Quantifying the uncertainty in analytical predictions is imperative to the success of any simulation-based product. The method could provide an alternative to traditional “validation by test only” mentality. This method could be extended to other disciplines and has potential to provide uncertainty for any numerical simulation, thus lowering the cost of performing these verifications while increasing the confidence in those predictions. Spacecraft requirements can include a maximum airflow speed to protect delicate instruments during ground processing. Computational Fluid Dynamics can be used to verify these requirements; however, the model must be validated by test data. This research includes the following three objectives and methods. Objective one is develop, model, and perform a Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis of three (3) generic, non-proprietary, environmental control systems and spacecraft configurations. Several commercially available and open source solvers have the capability to model the turbulent, highly three-dimensional, incompressible flow regime. The proposed method uses FLUENT, STARCCM+, and OPENFOAM. Objective two is to perform an uncertainty analysis of the Computational Fluid Dynamics model using the iv methodology found in “Comprehensive Approach to Verification and Validation of Computational Fluid Dynamics Simulations”. This method requires three separate grids and solutions, which quantify the error bars around Computational Fluid Dynamics predictions. The method accounts for all uncertainty terms from both numerical and input variables. Objective three is to compile a table of uncertainty parameters that could be used to estimate the error in a Computational Fluid Dynamics model of the Environmental Control System /spacecraft system. Previous studies have looked at the uncertainty in a Computational Fluid Dynamics model for a single output variable at a single point, for example the re-attachment length of a backward facing step. For the flow regime being analyzed (turbulent, three-dimensional, incompressible), the error at a single point can propagate into the solution both via flow physics and numerical methods. Calculating the uncertainty in using Computational Fluid Dynamics to accurately predict airflow speeds around encapsulated spacecraft in is imperative to the success of future missions


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Graduation Date





Kassab, Alain


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Degree Program

Mechanical Engineering








Release Date

May 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic