Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Development of a high-performance cryogenic shock tube

John C.  Cummings a1p1
a1 Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

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A cryogenic shock tube has been developed as a tool for research in fluid mechanics and low-temperature physics. The shock tube was designed to operate with the test section immersed in a cryogenic liquid. A unique diaphragm-changing mechanism makes this shock tube an economical and practical device. There are several advantages in operating a shock tube at cryogenic temperatures. Shock waves of very large Mach number can be produced. The flow field can be accurately calculated using ideal-shock-tube/perfect-gas theory. Boundary-layer effects are decreased, so that long test times are possible.

The cases that were studied are test-gas temperatures of 300, 77, 4·2 and 2·3 °K. Helium was used as both test and driver gas. The largest Mach numbers observed range from 2·4 at 300 °K to 32 at 2·3 °K (several runs at 1·46 °K produced Mach 40 shocks). As the temperature of the test gas was decreased, the observed Mach numbers approached those calculated using the ‘shock-tube equation’.

As a laboratory tool, the cryogenic shock tube may be applied in many areas and modified for use in even more. Shock waves with large Mach numbers and flows with large Reynolds numbers can be produced with this device. The rapid increase in temperature and pressure across the shock wave is useful for studies of sublimation, evaporation or chemical reactions. Quantum-mechanical effects in cryogenic materials, superconductors or superfluid helium can also be investigated.

(Published Online March 29 2006)
(Received February 19 1974)

p1 Present address: Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, TRW Systems, Redondo Beach, California 90278.