The coefficients of sliding friction of single crystals of commonly used high explosives pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX) and beta-cyclotetramethylene tetranitramine (β-HMX) under several rubbing configurations and at a relative sliding speed of 0.22 mm s−1 were measured. The sliding configurations were (1) crystal–polished steel pairs, (2) like-crystal pairs and (3) unlike-crystal pairs. For every rubbing configuration the friction force showed oscillations, which are thought to be caused by the formation and shearing of the adhesive junctions formed at the surface of the rubbing crystals. This shearing of the adhesive junctions led to the formation of microscopic and sub-microscopic particles, which were confirmed by an environmental scanning electron microscope study. For every rubbing configuration and for relatively high normal loads pressing the rubbing crystals together, the coefficient of friction was generally in the range 0.2–0.25 and it has been concluded that the coefficient of friction is controlled by the adhesion with almost negligible contribution from the ploughing component. From a knowledge of the coefficient of friction and the uniaxial yield stress values of single crystals of RDX and β-HMX, the shear strength of these crystals were determined to be ~13.4 MPa and ~16.8 MPa, respectively.
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