Thursday, December 14, 2023 07:30AM

Master's Thesis Proposal


Anna Gulan

(Advisor: Professor Mavris)

"Preliminary Structural and Thermal Protection System Optimization for Hypersonic Vehicles"



Thursday, December 14

7:30 a.m. EST

Weber Space and Technology Building (SST II)-Collaborative Visualization Environment (CoVE) 




In recent years, interest in hypersonic vehicles has rapidly developed resulting in an increase in hypersonic research and funding. This push is motivated by the hope that hypersonic vehicles will improve mission performance including velocity, range, and maneuverability. Hypersonic flow occurs when the flow field around the vehicle experiences phenomena including shock layers, strong entropy layer, viscous interactions, high-temperature flow, and low-density flow. These phenomena occur due to the high speed and high energy flow that typically occurs at or above Mach 5. When traveling at these speeds, vehicles face immense temperatures from both surface heat transfer and skin friction heating. This thermal energy heats the vehicle structure and causes material strength degradation. In an attempt to reduce this effect a robust thermal protection system (TPS) is needed to shield the structure from the intense thermal energy. An additional challenge that hypersonic vehicles face is their sensitivity to mass. A reduction in mass can improve flight performance and reduce vehicle loads. Thus, it is critical to accurately estimate vehicle mass early in the design process.


Current practices at a preliminary design level minimize vehicle mass optimization opportunities. Structural sizing often relies on historical regressions which lack background context and do not account for mission specific requirements. TPS is standardly sized independently to ensure that the structure does not reach temperatures beyond its maximum allowable. Both the structure and TPS are sized separately as distinct masses and only combined later when calculating vehicle mass. This approach results in a key gap in preliminary sizing efforts, leaving little room for optimization and relying heavily on late-stage adjustments. This research seeks to address this gap by proposing an innovative approach to integrate the pre-calculated flight load output data into a structural module and implement a feedback loop between the structural and TPS sizing module. This effort aims to enhance traceability in the design process and explore opportunities for mass reduction during the preliminary design phase. By connecting these critical sizing components early in the design process, this research aims to explore the potential for combined mass optimization to enhance mission performance.



  • Prof. Dimitri Mavris – School of Aerospace Engineering (advisor)
  • Dr. Adam Cox– School of Aerospace Engineering
  • Dr. Kenneth Decker – SpaceWorks Enterprise