Aerospace engineering research team wins Solid Rockets best paper

Published: Feb 7, 2023 3:30 PM

By Joe McAdory

Two aerospace engineering professors — Roy Hartfield and Joe Majdalani — doctoral candidate Griffin DiMaggio and alumnus Vivek Ahuja were awarded the 2022 Solid Rockets Best Paper award at the SciTech ’23 forum, held Jan. 22-27 in National Harbor, Maryland, and sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). A record 2,700 papers were presented.

The paper, “Solid Rocket Motor Internal Ballistics with a Surface-Vorticity Solver,” introduces an innovative and robust computational approach that is capable of translating panel codes, which have been traditionally developed for the purpose of predicting the external aerodynamic performance of air vehicles, to the internal flow field characteristics of solid rocket motors. Specifically, a surface-vorticity approach, originally intended for external flow applications, is adapted for internal flow analysis using boundary conditions that are suitable for solid rocket motors.

“This study shows that an enhanced panel code can resolve internal rocket flow fields with a striking level of fidelity and with such a degree of computational efficiency to make it valuable in the conceptual and preliminary design of rocket motors,” said Majdalani, the Hugh and Loeda Francis Chair of Excellence, who devotes research to the computational modeling and optimization of swirling flows and acoustic oscillations in solid, liquid and hybrid rocket engines.

“In this process, the vortex paneling approach embodied within FlightStream is refined using boundary conditions appropriate for solid rocket rotational flows,” Majdalani said. “The simulation results are then compared to existing analytical solutions for simple chamber configurations exhibiting small taper and uniform headwall injection.”

For a more realistic validation case, NASA’s Space Shuttle Reusable Solid Rocket Motor is examined. Guided by the analytical models, simple rotational and compressibility corrections are incorporated into the solver, and the results are subsequently compared to two other computational models and experimental measurements gathered from qualification motors.

Hartfield, the Walt and Virginia Woltosz professor and assistant chair of aerospace engineering, is an expert in surrogate modeling, theoretical aerodynamics, wind tunnel testing, optimization of aerospace systems, propulsion and optical diagnostics. He is actively engaged with the AIAA, having served as a member of the High-Speed Air-breathing Propulsion Technical Committee, a member of the Applied Aerodynamics Technical Committee and as Technical Chair of the 25th AIAA Applied Aerodynamics Conference.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, DiMaggio completed his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at Arizona State in 2019 before moving to Auburn University for his graduate studies, working with Hartfield as his doctoral advisor. His research interests include aerodynamics, propulsion, computational fluid dynamics and machine learning. His master's degree, which he completed in summer of 2021 at Auburn, provided the research outcomes leading to the recently awarded Solid Rockets Best Paper.

“Griffin DiMaggio is one of the hardest working doctoral students that I had the pleasure to work with,” Hartfield said. “He is an embodiment of the Auburn Creed and the group of students that make us very proud.”

Ahuja is co-founder of Research-in-Flight and director of its FlightStream Development Group. He earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn 2008 and followed that with a doctorate from Auburn in 2013.

Ahuja’s work during the past decade has centered on theoretical and numerical subsonic aerodynamics, with a focus on surface vorticity and its applications to attached and separated flows. Along the way, Ahuja developed many innovations with surface vorticity for high-lift flow, primarily a novel vorticity theory that allows for the prediction of viscous-coupled aerodynamics using surface-bound vorticity.

Media Contact: Joe McAdory,, 334.844.3447
From left, Roy Hartfield, Vivek Ahuja, Griffin DiMaggio and Joe Majdalani.

From left, Roy Hartfield, Vivek Ahuja, Griffin DiMaggio and Joe Majdalani.

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