In this paper dynamic fracture behavior of unidirectional graphite-epoxy composite plates is investigated experimentally and numerically. Crack propagation experiments are conducted on thick unidirectional graphite-epoxy composite plates subjected to in-plane, symmetric and asymmetric, impact loading. The coherent gradient sensing technique (CGS) is used in conjunction with high-speed photography to visualize the crack growth events. Cracks are found to propagate at subsonic speeds in the Mode-I case, whereas in both mixed mode and Mode-II the crack tip speed clearly exceeds the shear wave speed of the laminate. In the case of symmetric loading (Mode-I), the crack tip speeds approach the Rayleigh wave speed of the composite (1500 m/s), however it never exceeds it as predicted by asymptotic analysis. The situation is found to be entirely different for growing shear (Mode-II) cracks. A shock wave emanating from the crack tip is observed in the optical patterns. This provides direct evidence that the crack propagates faster than the shear wave speed of the composite. The crack tip speed is then observed to jump to a level close to the axial longitudinal wave speed along the fibers (7500 m/s) and then to stabilize to a lower level of approximately 6500 m/s. This speed corresponds to the speed at which the energy release rate required for shear crack growth is non-zero as determined from asymptotic analysis. The CGS interferograms also reveal the existence of large-scale frictional contact of the crack faces behind the moving shear cracks. In addition high speed thermographic measurements are conducted that show concentrated hot spots behind the crack tip indicating crack face frictional contact. Finally, these experiments are modeled by a detailed dynamic finite element calculation involving cohesive elements, newly developed adaptive remeshing using subdivision and edge collapse, composites element, and penalty contact. The numerical calculations are calibrated on the basis of fundamental material properties measured in the laboratory. The numerical methodology is subsequently validated by direct comparison to optical experimental measurements (crack speed record and near tip deformation field structure). For shear crack growth the numerics also reveal the experimentally observed shock wave structure and confirm the optical observation of large-scale crack face contact.

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