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Numerical Simulation of Compressible Gas Flows in a Micro-nozzle Using

Direct Simulation Monte Carlo Method

Vincent Lijoand Heuy-Dong Kim*

Numerical Simulation of Compressible Gas Flows in a Micro-nozzle Using

Direct Simulation Monte Carlo Method
Vincent Lijoand Heuy-Dong Kim*
Key Words :

DSMC (), micro-nozzle (), rarefied gas (),shock waves (),supersonic flow ()

In order to obtain insight into the physics of micro-nozzle flows, numerical simulations of rarefied flows in a
convergent-divergent micro-nozzle is investigated by using the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method. This
method can be applied to a wide range of rarefied flows within regimes that neither Navier-Stokes nor collisionless
Boltzmann equations are appropriate. In the present work, the molecular collision kinetics is modeled by the variable
hard sphere model and energy exchange between kinetic and internal modes is controlled by the phenomenological
Larsen- Borgnakke statistical model. Simulations are performed by considering a non-reacting gas model consisting of
two chemical species, N2 and O2 for various back pressures and results are presented for the computed flow field
quantities. Comparisons are made with the available experimental data, and the factors which affect the solutions are
discussed. This study revealed that in micro-nozzles surface effects play the main role on the flow structure. Separate
calculations are also performed for the macro-nozzle flows and detailed comparisons between typical rarefied and
continuum behaviors are made.
which is defined as the ratio of the molecular mean free
() to a characteristic geometry length (Dh)
determines the degree of rarefaction and the applicability
of traditional flow models.
Micro propulsion system for the new generation

micro-satellites is capable of delivering low thrust for
Kn =
orbital maintenance, small maneuvers to correct
2 2 pDh
trajectories and to overcome drag present in the space
where T is the temperature, the molecular diameter,
navigation. Because of the low moment of inertia of
p the pressure and k the Boltzmann constant (1.38x10-23
small spacecraft, the thrust requirements are mostly in
the micro-milli Newton (N-mN) range.
For Kn < 10-3, the flow is continuum flow, and it can
One of the simplest forms of micro propulsion system
be accurately modeled by the compressible Navier
is a cold gas thruster (micro-nozzle) in which, ideally, the
Stokes equations with classical no-slip boundary
cold gas or a mixture of gases pressurized in a chamber
conditions [1].
is accelerated in the convergent section of the nozzle to
Low pressure gas flows in micro-nozzles, can seldom
sonic conditions and then further to supersonic in the
be treated as fully continuum flow with no-slip boundary
divergent/expander section to the exit. These
conditions. These micro-flows usually experience
microthrusters can be applied individually or as array
continuum regime from gas chamber to the convergent
patterns to small satellite propulsive systems.
part of the nozzle, slip flow (10-2 < Kn <0.1) and
For micro sized devices, the Knudsen number (Kn)
transition regimes (0.1 < Kn <10) in the expander part.

At extremely low pressures gas should be considered as a

collection of molecules, and not as a continuum (free
molecular flows, Kn>10). A kinetic approach such as the
direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method may
therefore be necessary in order to simulate gas flows
with Kn > 0.1 [3].For the slip flow regime, NavierStokes equations with discontinuous boundary conditions

FMTRC, Daejoo Machinery Co. Ltd., Daegu, Korea

*School of Mechanical Engineering, Andong National

University, Korea
E-mail: kimhd@ andong.ac.kr (Prof. H. D. Kim)

of velocity slip and temperature jump must be taken into

For micro-nozzles with Kn < 10-2 , slip flow and
rarefaction effects can be neglected. In this regime,
micro-nozzle may be simulated based on the
Comparisons between numerical data and experiments
have been provided by [4-5]. For micro-nozzles with 10-2
< Kn <0.1, slip flow and rarefaction effects must be
accounted. This has been done by solving the
compressible Navier-Stokes equations withwall slip
boundary conditions [6-9], and through the use of Direct
Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) methods [10-11]. The
DSMC method which uncouples the molecular motions
and their collisions is valid for all Kn but expensive for
Kn < 1 [1].
The performance of such micro-nozzle is strongly
depending on size, geometry, size and viscous effects
which cannot be neglected due to the largely increased
surface-to-volume ratio. Moreover, with the low exhaust
pressures in space, these systems may behave differently
than conventional large scale nozzles. The conventional
nozzle and micro-nozzle flows are not quite the same and
many unexpected phenomena in microscales have been
reported. Hence, there is a great need to understand the
physical process present in microflows. The present
work studies macro and micro-nozzle flows based on the
compressible Navier-Stokes equations with no-slip (for
macro-nozzle), with slip (micro-nozzle) and DSMC
(micro-nozzle). The rhoCentralFoam (continuum solver)
based on the compressible Navier-Stokes equations and
dsmcFoam (discrete solver) of OpenFOAM [12] is used.
Hao et. al [5] experimentally investigated flow
through a micro-nozzle of planar configuration, in which
they measured the mass flow rates and pressures near the
throat for various outlet pressures. The geometry of the
micro-nozzle is shown in Fig. 1. Air was the working
fluid employed in the experiments. Due to the symmetry
of the flow, only one-half of the domain is considered for
the present simulations.


velocity formulation and the Smoluchowski temperature

jump condition (Eq. 4) are applied to the micro-nozzle
2 v u
u fluid uwall =

T fluid Twall =

2 T 2 T
T + 1 Pr y


where Pr is the Prandtl number, v the tangential

momentum accommodation coefficient, T the thermal
accommodation coefficient, the gas density, u the
stream-wise velocity, the specific heat ratio, x and y the
tangential and wall-normal coordinate direction
The particle-based method
A structured uniform mesh of about 60,000 cells is
used for the DSMC simulation of the micro-nozzle. The
cell size has been designed to approximately have five
molecules in every cell. The symmetry plane is treated as
specularly reflecting. Fig. 2 shows the computational
geometry along with boundary conditions. The
simulation of the nozzle uses the free stream utility at the
inlet and outlet of the nozzle. Collisions are treated by a
variable hard sphere model with the extension of
Larssen-Borgnakke method for exchanging translational
and rotational energy. The temperature of the micronozzle is sufficiently low for vibration energy to be
negligible. Hence the variable hard sphere model with
exchange treatment is considered adequate. The walls of
the nozzle scatter reflected molecules according the fully
diffuse Maxwellian distribution of a temperature of 300
K. The mesh used for the micro-nozzle RANS is similar
to that of DSMC. Simulations are performed by
considering a nonreacting gas model consisting of two
chemical species, N2 and O2. In the simulation for the
micro-nozzle case, every dsmc particle represents 5106
real molecules and the time step used is 610-10 s.

Numerical Methods

The continuum method (macro-nozzle)

Steady, 2D RANS equations are solved with SST

k turbulence model for closure, for the macro-nozzle.
The grid points are clustered around the macro-nozzle
wall. The numerical boundary conditions used are total
pressure (100kPa) and temperature (300 K) at the inlet,
static pressure outlet. Dry air with ideal gas
approximation is used as working fluid and viscosity is
calculated by Sutherland law. All the walls are
considered to be adiabatic with no slip.
The continuum method (Micro-nozzle)
The basic equations are the two-dimensional,
compressible, steady-state form of the Reynoldsaveraged NavierStokes (RANS) equations. The
Maxwell velocity-slip boundary condition (Eq. 3) in its

Fig. 1. Geometry of the micro-nozzle (units in m).



Shown for comparisons are the mass flow rates (Fig.

3) predicted with the code and experiment [5] for various
pressure differences (p) between the inlet and the outlet.
The agreement between the predicted mass flow rate by

different approaches and the experimental values is fairly

good and clearly demonstrates the proper behavior. In the
experiments, the upstream pressure (P0) is kept constant
(100 kpa) while the downstream pressure (pe) is varied.

Fig. 2. Numerical setup for simulations.

Fig. 3. Comparisons of predicted and experimental mass

flow rates.


Results and discussion

Fig. 4. Mach number distributions along the micronozzle axis.

Figure 4 shows the centerline Mach distributions for

different values of pe. The maximum Mach number for
the nozzle as per 1D theory is 2.0. But, for the micronozzle the maximum Mach number at the exit is around
1.5. The reduction is Mach number is due to the
boundary layer blockage and the higher temperature in
the micro-nozzle divergent part (Fig. 5). The higher
temperature is due to the dominant viscous losses
resulting from a larger surface-to-volume ratio when
compared to that of the conventional scale nozzle.
The more intense changes in these properties occur
for pe equal to 10 kPa, which induces steady supersonic
flows in the divergent part. It can be seen that, the Mach
distribution is over predicted by the 1D theory in the
divergent part, due to the failure in accounting the
viscous effects which are dominant in the micro-scale.
Also, for the conventional macro-nozzles, viscous effects
are virtually negligible and, as a consequence, these
nozzles can be accurately designed and analyzed based
on one-dimensional isentropic flow theory.

Fig. 5 Centerline static temperature distributions.

Shock waves appearing near the throat of the macronozzle are a result of the choice of sharp throat geometry
(c.f. Fig. 1). The flow is strongly deflected near the
throat, which results in the formation of a weak shock
along the divergent part of the macro-nozzle. However,
for the micro-nozzle, the supersonic flow will never
experience such an abrupt flow path change, since the
sonic throat is further downstream from the actual sharp
throat (c.f. Fig. 4). Hence, no shock waves are observed
near the throat of the micro-nozzle.
When operated under the same pressure ratio, there is
a strong shock occurring near the end of the macronozzle. However it can be seen that micro-nozzle flow
are devoid of shockwaves. The mysterious disappearance
of the shockwaves at the exit can be seen in Fig. 6.
From Fig. 5b, for a macro-nozzle, strong shocks are
observed near the exit, since the flow is highly overexpanded. The thick boundary layer present along the
divergent part of the micro-nozzle reduces the area ratio,
such that the flow became perfectly-expanded. As the
micro-nozzle flow is perfectly-expanded, no shockwaves
are observed near the exit.

(a) Under-expanded flows (both nozzles) with

shock waves appearing in the plume.

Nozzle Type

Specific Impulse (s)
73.6 N
48.6 N
2.3 kN
1.5 kN
Table 1. Comparison of thrusts at different scales.
In micro-nozzles, the viscous boundary layer will have

a larger thickness as compared to the macro-nozzles,

which lowers the exit velocity considerably. Thrust is
also reduced due to the shock waves inside (cf. Table 1).
For micro-nozzles with thrusts in the N range, the
molecular mean free path is no longer smaller compared
to the dimensions of the nozzle and the DSMC method

(b) Macro-nozzle with shock waves appearing near

the exit; perfectly-expanded micro-nozzle with
no shockwaves.
Fig. 5. Pressure distributions along the axis.

used properly accounted for the rarefaction effects.



In the present work, numerical simulations have been

carried with compressible NavierStokes equations with
classical no-slip boundary conditions, Maxwell velocityslip/Smoluchowski temperature jump conditions and
DSMC methods to understand the flows in micro-nozzles
when downscaling from macro to micro scale. In micronozzle, rarefaction effects strongly influence the overall
performance. Unlike the conventional nozzles, onedimensional isentropic flow theory is inadequate for
predicting the micro-nozzle flow physics. A comparison
between isentropic theory, numerical simulations and
experimental results has been presented for a micronozzle expanding into a low pressure ambient, showing a
good agreement between the available data. Also,
shockwaves occurring inside the macro-nozzle is

Fig. 6. Mach contours in macro and micro nozzles.


compared with the shock-free flow in micro-nozzles and

the possible reasons for this non-traditional physics are


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