Modeling of high pressure arc-discharge with a fully-implicit Navier-Stokes stabilized finite element flow solver

A. Sahai, N. N. Mansour, B. Lopez, M. Panesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This work addresses the modeling of high pressure electric discharge in an arc-heated wind tunnel. The combined numerical solution of Poisson's equation, radiative transfer equations, and the set of Favre-averaged thermochemical nonequilibrium Navier-Stokes equations allows for the determination of the electric, radiation, and flow fields, accounting for their mutual interaction. Semi-classical statistical thermodynamics is used to determine the plasma thermodynamic properties, while transport properties are obtained from kinetic principles with the Chapman-Enskog method. A multi-temperature formulation is used to account for thermal non-equilibrium. Finally, the turbulence closure of the flow equations is obtained by means of the Spalart-Allmaras model, which requires the solution of an additional scalar transport equation. A Streamline upwind Petrov-Galerkin stabilized finite element formulation is employed to solve the Navier-Stokes equation. The electric field equation is solved using the standard Galerkin formulation. A stable formulation for the radiative transfer equations is obtained using the least-squares finite element method. The developed simulation framework has been applied to investigate turbulent plasma flows in the 20 MW Aerodynamic Heating Facility at NASA Ames Research Center. The current model is able to predict the process of energy addition and re-distribution due to Joule heating and thermal radiation, resulting in a hot central core surrounded by colder flow. The use of an unsteady three-dimensional treatment also allows the asymmetry due to a dynamic electric arc attachment point in the cathode chamber to be captured accurately. The current work paves the way for detailed estimation of operating characteristics for arc-heated wind tunnels which are critical in testing thermal protection systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number055012
JournalPlasma Sources Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 3 2017


  • Joule heating
  • SUPG
  • arc attachment
  • arcjet
  • finite element
  • radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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