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Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted a variety of scientific investigations during the week ending Sept. 29, 2023, including FLARE.
This JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) investigation explores the flammability of materials in microgravity. Current tests of materials that are used in crewed spacecraft do not consider gravity, which significantly affects combustion phenomena. The ability for flames to spread over solid materials, for example, is affected by the forces of buoyancy, which are absent in microgravity. Removing the effects of buoyancy by conducting combustion experiments in microgravity also gives researchers a better understanding of specific flame behaviors.
JAXA astronaut Satoshi Furukawa sets up hardware for the FLARE investigation. NASA Other investigations on the space station have examined the behavior, spread, and growth of fire. This work helps guide selection of spacecraft cabin materials, improve understanding of early fire growth behavior, validate models used to determine material flammability, and identify optimal fire suppression techniques. Developing ways to prevent and extinguish fire is of critical importance to the safety of crew members and vehicles in space and in confined spaces such as aircraft on Earth. These settings limit the options for suppressing fires and can be difficult to evacuate from.
Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) was one of the first investigations to examine how to extinguish a variety of fuels burning in microgravity. Putting out fires in space must consider the geometry of the flame and characteristics of the materials and methods used to extinguish it, as those used on the ground could be ineffective or even make the flame worse. Analysis of 59 BASS burn tests provided data on heat flow, flame size, effects of fuel mixture flow, and other important parameters.
BASS-II examined the burning and extinction characteristics of a variety of fuel samples to test the hypothesis that materials burn as well if not better in microgravity than in normal gravity, given adequate ventilation and identical conditions such as pressure, oxygen concentration, and temperature. A number of papers have been published based on results from BASS-II, with findings including a report on the differences between flame spread and fuel regression and comparison of flame spread rates.
Image of a flame burning during the BASS experiments on extinguishing burning fuels. NASA Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction – Growth and Extinction Limit (SoFIE-GEL), a research collaboration between NASA and Roscosmos, analyzes how the temperature of a fuel affects material flammability. Researchers report that experimental observations agree with trends predicted by the models. This investigation is the first in a series using the SoFIE insert for the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack.
ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti works on the SoFIE-GEL investigation of materials flammability.NASA Saffire is a series of experiments conducted aboard uncrewed Cygnus cargo spacecraft after they depart the station. Using these cargo vehicles provides distance from the crewed station and enables tests of larger fires. Results have shown that a flame spreading over thin fabrics in microgravity reaches a steady spread rate and a limiting length, which can be used to establish the rate of heat release in a spacecraft, and found that reducing pressure slows down the flame spread.
A sample of fabric burns inside an uncrewed Cygnus cargo craft for the Saffire-IV experiment. NASA Confined Combustion, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, examines the behavior of flame spread in confined spaces of different shapes. Confinement has been shown to have significant effects on fire characteristics and hazards. Researchers report specifics on interactions between a flame and its surrounding walls and the fate of the flame, such as growth or extinction. These data provide guidance for design of structures and fire safety codes and response in space and on Earth. Other results suggest that confinement can increase or decrease solid fuel flammability depending on conditions. Researchers also demonstrated that color pyrometry – capturing flame emission simultaneously at three broad spectral bands – can determine the temperature of a flame without disrupting its spread.
Flame studies help keep crews in space and people on Earth safe. This research also can lead to more efficient combustion, reducing impurities and producing greener and more efficient flames for uses on Earth such as heating and transportation.
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NASA has switched its primary World Wide Web addresses to a beta version of the new NASA.gov and science.nasa.gov websites, continuing the long-term development and consolidation of its public web presence. The new sites will offer visitors an improved, intuitive web design and elevated user experience.
The ongoing work on the agency’s upgraded website is the first step to a broad new digital experience from NASA, which will include a new on-demand streaming service called NASA + and an updated NASA app. This enhanced digital presence will allow the space agency to share science, research, exploration, and innovation with the world through cohesive platforms, encouraging users to spend more time experiencing the universe through the eyes of NASA.
This new site will be the foundation of a one-stop-shop for the agency’s missions and research, climate data, Artemis updates and more. The new, topic-driven experience will ensure easier, integrated access to NASA information currently found across the agency’s many websites.
Design features of the new site include enlarged image formats and NASA’s collection of imagery covering all agency research and programs. NASA will continue to update and improve the site on a rolling-basis as it receives feedback from website visitors.
This is the eighth significant update for NASA’s website, which first launched in 1993. The site won the Webby Award for best government website four times, and received the People’s Voice, voted on by the public 10 times.
The agency will continue to connect NASA websites and multimedia libraries into this new digital experience to further streamline the information shared across its centers, missions, and programs.
Last Updated Sep 28, 2023 Related Terms
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Marshall Teams Combine to Make Space Station Science Reality
By Gina Hannah and Jonathan Deal
For more than 20 years, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have worked diligently on science experiments that benefit humanity on Earth and in deep space. Getting these experiments to and from space is a multi-faceted effort across the agency. Teams at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center have combined their world class capabilities – before and after these experiments return from the space station – to make that cutting-edge science a reality.
One experiment that recently returned from station is a perfect example of how the teams work together. The experiment titled “Growth of Ternary Compound Semiconductors” seeks to study crystal growth in microgravity, specifically focusing on ZnSe (zinc selenide) compounds and one of their potential applications in high-powered lasers operating in the infrared wavelengths.
Chris Honea, a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center technician supporting payloads, unwraps a payload Aug. 18 for semiconductor research that recently arrived from the International Space Station. The experiment studied crystal growth in microgravity.NASA Six SCAs (Sample Cartridge Assemblies) launched to the space station as part of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Service Mission-24. Using the Materials Science Laboratory on station, it aimed to cultivate crystals of zinc selenide, zinc selenide telluride, and chromium-doped zinc selenide using the physical vapor transport method. But what set this experiment apart was its core objective: to discern how gravity-driven fluid flows influenced the structural, electrical, and optical characteristics of these crystals when compared to their counterparts grown on Earth.
As the crystals began to form, scientists, personnel from space station project office, and the thermal team of Marshall’s Test Lab, monitored their progress. In the unique environment of microgravity, fluid dynamics took on a new dimension, and the crystals flourished under those conditions.
“Without gravity, we have better control because weight itself can cause defects and affect the growth pattern,” said Dr. Ching Hua Su, the experiment’s principal investigator. “Our main goal is to study the effect of gravity on vapor transport crystal growth. When dealing with materials that melt at higher temperatures, vapor growth lowers the temperature and contributes fewer defects. That’s why we chose zinc selenide for our applications.”
Su is a member of the Materials Science and Metallurgy Branch in Marshall’s Materials and Processing Lab. That team also works on the engineering projects ranging from additive manufacturing, welding to metallurgy for fuel tanks and engines.
On Earth, quality ZnSe-based crystals are used in various optical applications, with implications for cutting edge-technologies such as optical windows, infrared lasers, and optical wavelength conversion devices. Being able to conduct the experiment in a microgravity environment, scientists have gained insights that could enhance the quality of these crystals, thus paving the way for revolutionary advances in optical technology.
“We are now on the brink of completing our sixth flight experiment,” Su said.
We are eager to compare our space-grown samples with those from the ground, conducting two more runs on this duplicate furnace in the test lab at Marshall to facilitate direct comparisons.Take time to debrief after success or conflict. Listen, then restate messages to make sure they're understood.
Dr. Ching Hua Su
Materials Science and Metallurgy Branch in Marshall’s Materials and Processing Lab
Ensuring the science conducted on the payload is successful is a team effort, and work on the mission begins years before the payload launches.
“We have a payload operation integration specialist and a payload activity requirement coordinator who work with the payload developer to write procedures and document timing constraints,” said Jennifer McMillian, payload operations manager for the International Space Station Increment 69 management team.
Those procedures include determining the length of the experiment, proper installation of the cartridge, and defining the type of ground support needed. Planners then work those activities into the mission timeline so the payload can be scheduled into the workflow on the Materials Science Research Rack after it arrives on the space station.
Scheduling the work takes into consideration both crew time and station resources, including power, water, and the vacuum exhaust system.
“We’re involved in all of the planning. We have the whole increment team that is working on building a plan, say, six months out, and then refining that plan daily as we get closer to execution,” McMillian said.
Once the payload enters the rack, the team’s work is round-the-clock.
“When we get to real-time execution, the payload rack officers here are responsible for commanding to the rack, applying all of the resources to that rack to enable the science,” she said.
The astronauts will use the instructions written by the payload operations integration specialist to process the run, usually for about a week. The process is repeated for each of the samples in the payload before being returned to Earth.
The work is an international effort. As payloads are being processed, a team at Marshall monitors the rack, and a European Space Agency team in Munich, Germany, adjusts parameters for each specific investigation in the rack, McMillian said.
“When we’re in the middle of execution, we’re in the monitoring phase, and react to any anomalous situation we may see,” she said.
With the crystals now back on Earth, Su and his team are hoping the experiment will lead to new frontiers in crystal growth and the endless possibilities it holds for both space and terrestrial applications.
Hannah, a Media Fusion employee, supports Marshall’s Office of Communications and Strategic Analysis, and Deal, a public affairs officer, supports the Marshall Office of Communications.
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