The effect of Mach number on the growth of unstable disturbances in a boundary layer undergoing a strong interaction with an impinging oblique shock wave is studied by direct numerical simulation and linear stability theory (LST). To reduce the number of independent parameters, test cases are arranged so that both the interaction location Reynolds number (based on the distance from the plate leading edge to the shock impingement location for a corresponding inviscid flow) and the separation bubble length Reynolds number are held fixed. Small-amplitude disturbances are introduced via both white-noise and harmonic forcing and, after verification that the disturbances are convective in nature, linear growth rates are extracted from the simulations for comparison with parallel flow LST and solutions of the parabolized stability equations (PSE). At Mach 2.0, the oblique modes are dominant and consistent results are obtained from simulation and theory. At Mach 4.5 and Mach 6.85, the linear Navier-Stokes results show large reductions in disturbance energy at the point where the shock impinges on the top of the separated shear layer. The most unstable second mode has only weak growth over the bubble region, which instead shows significant growth of streamwise structures. The two higher Mach number cases are not well predicted by parallel flow LST, which gives frequencies and spanwise wave numbers that are significantly different from the simulations. The PSE approach leads to good qualitative predictions of the dominant frequency and wavenumber at Mach 2.0 and 4.5, but suffers from reduced accuracy in the region immediately after the shock impingement. Three-dimensional Navier-Stokes simulations are used to demonstrate that at finite amplitudes the flow structures undergo a nonlinear breakdown to turbulence. This breakdown is enhanced when the oblique-mode disturbances are supplemented with unstable Mack modes
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