Spacecraft heating/cooling systems will work much like a fridge

Jan. 6, 2005
Purdue University researchers have figured out a way of boiling and condensing liquids in zero gravity that will let engineers design efficient systems for heating and cooling in spacecraft on extended missions.

Purdue mechanical engineering doctoral student Hui Zhang, left, and Purdue mechanical engineering professor Issam Mudawar work on a flight apparatus used for experiments on the novel two-phase system.


Scientists want to use so-called "two-phase systems" for future spacecraft and space stations on the moon and Mars. The systems will work analogously to ordinary air conditioners and refrigerators, employing a closed loop in which liquid comes to a boil as it absorbs heat. The liquid then turns into vapor and is returned by pumps so it condenses back into a liquid. In the process, the vapor cools down to repeat the cycle.

Because boiling, vaporizing and condensing a fluid is far more effective at dissipating heat than just using liquid, such systems can be compact and thus ideal for space travel where there is a premium on light weight. The problem is that little is known about the behavior of boiling and condensing liquids in space.

Purdue researchers devised a physical model of new method that looked promising in experiments onboard a NASA KC-135 aircraft that creates reduced gravity conditions. Engineers designed the flight experiment so fluid flowed through a transparent plastic window. The researchers then took high-speed photographs and video of the flowing fluid during the flights to study its behavior in minute detail.

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