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The Effect of the Mach Number on a Turbulent Backward-Facing Step Flow


The flow around a backward-facing step in the sub-, trans- and supersonic regimes was investigated at the Trisonic Wind Tunnel Munich with particle image velocimetry and dynamic pressure measurements. These two techniques were combined to simultaneously measure and correlate the velocity fluctuations in a streamwise vertical plane with the pressure fluctuations on the reattachment surface. The results show that the dynamic loads on the reattachment surface increase from subsonic up to the transonic regime while the mean reattachment location moves downstream. As soon as the flow becomes locally supersonic aft of the backward-facing step, the mean reattachment location suddenly moves upstream while the normalized dynamic loads drastically decrease. By correlating the velocity and the dynamic pressure data, it was shown that a clear separation between outer flow and the flow close to the surface aft of the step is responsible for the drastic load reduction. Due to the large difference in pressure/density, the disturbances from the locally supersonic flow do not have an effect on the flow close to the surface. This is also reflected in the power spectral densities of the pressure fluctuations on the surface, showing that at supersonic free-stream Mach numbers a low-frequency pumping motion of the locally subsonic flow is the dominant mode, while in sub-/transonic flow Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities and a cross-pumping motion of the shear layer dominate the dynamic loads.

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Financial support from the German Research Foundation in the framework of the TRR40 – Technological foundations for the design of thermally and mechanically highly loaded components of future space transportation systems – is gratefully acknowledged by the authors.

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Correspondence to Istvan Bolgar.

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Bolgar, I., Scharnowski, S. & Kähler, C.J. The Effect of the Mach Number on a Turbulent Backward-Facing Step Flow. Flow Turbulence Combust 101, 653–680 (2018).

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  • Backward-facing step (BFS)
  • Flow separation
  • Subsonic
  • Transonic
  • Supersonic
  • Coherent flow structures
  • Particle image velocimetry (PIV)
  • Dynamic pressure measurements