Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Astronaut Scott Kelly configures UC San Diego-led experiment aboard the International Space Station

Wayne Wright, Tracy Neff, Scott Kelly, Jennifer Storck, astronaut Mike Fossum and Sharon Reinke met at the Johnson Space Flight Center in December 2014 to train Kelly to use the fluids and combustion experiment hardware on the space station.
Credits: NASA

It’s not every day that researchers at UC San Diego can enlist a NASA astronaut to tweak their experimental set-up, but when duty calls, Scott Kelly is at the ready.  
The astronaut, who returned to Earth two weeks ago following a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, made crucial adjustments during his mission to an experiment led by Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, San Diego. Williams’ Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) study – one of several microgravity experiments being run on the ISS’s Destiny Laboratory – is an effort to learn more about so-called cool-burning flames, which could lead to the production of safer spacecraft as well as cleaner, more efficient engines for vehicles back on earth.

Kelly spent two consecutive days configuring test hardware to perform test points for the FLEX system. He also replaced needles, a fiber arm, igniter tips and reservoirs in support of the experiments.

All the FLEX experiments take place in the ISS’s Multiuser Droplet Combustion Apparatus, which can generate and ignite droplets from different fuels in different atmospheric conditions. The chamber is crammed with sensors and equipped with video cameras that record experiments. It’s located inside an experimental facility called the Combustion Integrated Rack, which is roughly the size of a 5.5-foot bookcase, weighs close to 560 lbs and records the data for transmission back to Earth.

Researchers believe that cool flames – which were discovered during an experiment aboard the ISS in 2014 – are the result of elementary chemical reactions that do not have the time to develop around burning fuel droplets on earth, where they can only exist for a very short period of time. The FLEX study seeks to learn more about how quickly fuel burns, the conditions required for soot to form, and how mixtures of fuels evaporate before burning. The microgravity environment of the ISS, where there is no buoyancy, makes it possible to provide a sufficient amount of test time required to support the chemical process that creates cool flames.
Press release from NASA: 

Related story:  Researchers discover cool-burning flames in space

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