The transmission and degradation of RF signals through the plasma sheath surrounding hypersonic vehicles is investigated using a DSMC flow solver method. Starfish software, made publicly available by its creator, Lubos Brieda, a professor at USC, is adapted and used to run the hypersonic flow simulations. Additionally, heat ablation materials are briefly investigated for their effect on RF transmission. The study of RF signal degradation and the viability of communications for hypersonic vehicles is of supreme importance for the future of aerospace as hypersonic travel and warfare is becoming technologically possible. Integrating over the flow solver’s resulting electron number density profiles yields values for attenuation that drop below 10 decibels in the transmission window of 10GHz to 30GHz. In this window, phase shift values remain between 5 and 15 radians. Outside of this transmission window, attenuation and phase shift are too high to suggest presence of viable communications. If signal degradation models can be verified and improved with wind tunnel and flight data, these results suggest that vital radar and satellite communications are possible between 10 GHz and 30 GHz through the plasma sheath and can be decoded using predicted degradation values.

Document Type

Final Report

Author's School

McKelvey School of Engineering

Author's Department

Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Class Name

Mechanical Engineering and Material Sciences Independent Study

Date of Submission


Available for download on Thursday, December 19, 2024