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Influence of boundary-layer disturbances on the instability of a roughness wake in a high-speed boundary layer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2014

Nicola De Tullio*
Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ, UK
Neil D. Sandham
Aeronautics and Astronautics, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
Email address for correspondence:


The excitation of instability modes in the wake generated behind a discrete roughness element in a boundary layer at Mach 6 is analysed through numerical simulations of the compressible Navier–Stokes equations. Recent experimental observations show that transition to turbulence in high-speed boundary layers during re-entry flight is dominated by wall roughness effects. Therefore, understanding the roughness-induced transition to turbulence in this flow regime is of primary importance. Our results show that a discrete roughness element with a height of about half the local boundary-layer thickness generates an unstable wake able to sustain the growth of a number of modes. The most unstable of these modes are a sinuous mode (mode SL) and two varicose modes (modes VL and VC). The varicose modes grow approximately 17 % faster than the most unstable Mack mode and their growth persists over a longer streamwise distance, thereby leading to a notable acceleration of the laminar–turbulent transition process. Two main mechanisms are identified for the excitation of wake modes: the first is based on the interaction between the external disturbances and the reverse flow regions induced by the roughness element and the second is due to the interaction between the boundary-layer modes (first modes and Mack modes) and the non-parallel roughness wake. An important finding of the present study is that, while being less unstable, mode SL is the preferred instability for the first of the above excitation mechanisms, which drives the wake modes excitation in the absence of boundary-layer modes. Modes VL and VC are excited through the second mechanism and, hence, become important when first modes and Mack modes come into interaction with the roughness wake. The new mode VC presents similarities with the Mack mode instability, including the tuning between its most unstable wavelength and the local boundary-layer thickness, and it is believed to play a fundamental role in the roughness-induced transition of high-speed boundary layers. In contrast to the smooth-wall case, wall cooling is stabilising for all the roughness-wake modes.

© 2014 Cambridge University Press 

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