A modular approach to the study of system performance and thermodynamic cycle efficiency of airbreathing pulse detonation engines (PDEs) is described. Each module represents a specific component of the engine, and its dynamic behavior is formulated using conservation laws in either one or two spatial dimensions. A framework is established for assessing quantitatively the influence of all known processes on engine dynamics. Various loss mechanisms limiting the PDE performance are identified. As a specific example, a supersonic PDE for high-altitude applications is studied comprehensively. The effects of chamber configuration and operating sequence on the engine propulsive efficiency are examined. The results demonstrate the existence of an optimum cycle frequency and valve close-up time for achieving maximum performance in terms of thrust and specific impulse. Furthermore, a choked convergent-divergent nozzle is required to render the PDE competitive with other airbreathing propulsion systems, such as gas-turbine and ramjet engines.
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