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Title: Modelling the behaviour of granular material on the surface of asteroids and under different gravity conditions (e.g., Mars, the Moon)
Author: Murdoch, Naomi
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 4056
Awarding Body: Open University
Current Institution: Open University
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis, at the interface between the scientific disciplines of planetary science and granular physics, has two key components, both of which intend to increase our understanding of granular dynamics in varying gravitational conditions. The dynamics of granular materials are involved in the evolution of solid planets and small bodies in our Solar System, whose surfaces are generally covered with regolith. Understanding granular dynamics is also critical for the design and/or operations of landers, sampling devices and rovers to be included in space missions. The first component of this thesis is the validation of the hard-sphere discrete element method implementation in the N-body code pkdgrav to model the dynamics of granular material. By direct comparison with results from laboratory experiments, it is demonstrated that the hard-sphere discrete element method implementation in pkdgrav is valid for modelling granular material in dilute regimes and is capable of reproducing the complex dynamical behaviour of a specific dense system as well. The second component is focussed on the AstEx parabolic flight experiment. This experiment, with the aim of characterising the response of granular material to rotational shear forces in a microgravity environment, was designed, constructed, flown and the data were analysed as part of this thesis. It was found that the effect of constant shearing on a granular material in a direction perpendicular to the gravity field is not strongly influenced by gravity. The AstEx experiment has demonstrated, for the first time, that the efficiency of granular convection may decrease in the presence of a weak gravitational field, similar to that on the surface of small bodies. The first measurements of transient weakening of granular material after shear reversal in microgravity are also reported. Results suggest that the force contact network may be weaker in microgravity, although the influence of any change in the contact network is felt by the granular material over much larger distances. This may have important implications for our interpretation of asteroid surfaces. Continued advancement of our understanding of granular materials in varying gravitational conditions requires futher experiments and the development of the soft-sphere discrete element method implementation in pkdgrav in order to model the granular regimes that are inaccessbile to the hard-sphere implementation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral