mechanical and fluid systems
3D-Printed Injector for Cryogenic Fluid Management
NASA's TVS Augmented Injector includes an internal heat exchanger, a fluid injector spray head, and an external surface condensation heat exchanger - all combined with multiple intertwined flow paths containing liquid, two-phase, and gaseous working fluid. The TVS provides a source of coolant to the injector, which chills the incoming fluid flow. This cooled flow promotes condensation of the tank ullage dropping pressure and maintains incoming fluid flow. The system eliminates the potential for a stalled fill condition and reduces tank pressure during cryogenic fluid transfer. During fill operations, the tank vent can be closed early in the process before fluid is introduced, and, in some cases, the tank vent may not even need to be opened. Furthermore, the TVS Augmented Injector can remove sufficient thermal energy to reach a 100% liquid level in the receiver tank. A cryo-cooler can be used in place the TVS flow circuit for a zero-loss system. The TVS Augmented Injector couples internal fluid flow cooling and external surface ullage gas condensation into a single, compact package that can be mounted to small tank flanges for minimal impact insertion into any vessel. The injector is printed as one part using additive manufacturing, resulting in part count reduction, improved reproducibility, shorter lead times, and reduced cost compared to conventional approaches. The injector may be of particular interest in applications where cryogenic fluid is expensive, fluid loss through vents is problematic, and/or achieving high filling levels would be helpful. The injector can benefit typical cryogenic fluid transfer between containers or, alternatively, can serve as a tank pressure control device for long-term storage using a fluid recirculation system that pumps fluid through the injector and sprays cooled liquid back into the tank. Additionally, where ISRU processes are employed, the injector can be used to liquefy incoming propellant streams.
Cryostat-100 combines the best features of previous cryostats developed by NASA, while offering new features and conveniences. This unit can readily handle the full range of cryogenic-vacuum conditions over several orders of magnitude of heat flux. Guide rings, handling tools, and other design items make insulation change-out and test measurement verification highly reliable and efficient to operate. The new apparatus requires less ancillary equipment (it is not connected to storage tank, phase separator, subcooler, etc.) to operate properly. It is top-loading, which makes disassembly, change-out, and instrumentation hook-up much faster. The thermal stability is improved because of internal vapor plates, a single-tube system of filling and venting, bellows feed-throughs, Kevlar thread suspensions, and heavy-wall stainless-steel construction. The cold mass of Cryostat-100 is 1m long, with a diameter of 168 mm. The test articles can therefore be of a corresponding length and diameter, with a nominal thickness of 25.4 mm. Shorter lengths are acceptable, and thicknesses may be from 0 mm to 50 mm. Tests are conducted from ambient pressure (760 torr) to high vacuum (below 110-4 torr) and at any vacuum pressure increment between these two extremes. The residual gas (and purge gas) is typically nitrogen but can be any purge gas, such as helium, argon, or carbon dioxide. Typically, eight cold vacuum pressures are performed for each test series. The warm boundary temperature is approximately 293 K, and the cold boundary temperature is approximately 78 K. The delta temperature for the cryogenic testing is therefore approximately 215 K. A unique lift mechanism provides for change-out of the insulation test specimens. It also provides for maintenance and other operations in the most effective and time-efficient ways. The lift mechanism is also a key to the modularity of the overall system.
Capacitive Micro-Gravity Fluid Mass Gauge
The capacitive micro-gravity fluid mass gauge with spatial regularization is a sensor that can be outfitted to propellant vessels and can provide a determination of the mass of liquid and gas inside the vessel volume with a determinable level of accuracy. The sensor consists of 1) a number of discrete electrodes that are installed to the inner surface of the vessel wall, 2) signal generating, digitizing, signal conditioning, and general support (e.g., power supply) electronics, 3) electrical connections between the electrodes and the electronics, and 4) the algorithm used to turn the set of capacitance measurements (i.e., the capacitance matrix) into a volume fraction. The electronics generate and apply a sinusoid to a single electrode, and then the electronics measure the charge on all other electrodes. Capacitance is simply the charge divided by the voltage. This is repeated for all electrodes, without repeating duplicates. For a vessel with a fixed volume, the volume fraction can be converted to the mass fraction using the Ideal Gas Law so long as the fluid constituents, temperature, and pressure are known.
power generation and storage
Cryogenic Flux Capacitor
Storage and transfer of fluid commodities such as oxygen, hydrogen, natural gas, nitrogen, argon, etc. is an absolute necessity in virtually every industry on Earth. These fluids are typically contained in one of two ways; as low pressure, cryogenic liquids, or as a high pressure gases. Energy storage is not useful unless the energy can be practically obtained ("un-stored") as needed. Here the goal is to store as many fluid molecules as possible in the smallest, lightest weight volume possible; and to supply ("un-store") those molecules on demand as needed in the end-use application. The CFC concept addresses this dual storage/usage problem with an elegant charging/discharging design approach. The CFC's packaging is ingeniously designed, tightly packing aerogel composite materials within a container allows for a greater amount of storage media to be packed densely and strategically. An integrated conductive membrane also acts as a highly effective heat exchanger that easily distributes heat through the entire container to discharge the CFC quickly, it can also be interfaced to a cooling source for convenient system charging; this feature also allows the fluid to easily saturate the container for fast charging. Additionally, the unit can be charged either with cryogenic liquid or from an ambient temperature gas supply, depending on the desired manner of refrigeration. Finally, the heater integration system offers two promising methods, both of which have been fabricated and tested, to evenly distribute heat throughout the entire core, both axially and radially.
materials and coatings
Layered Composite Insulation for Extreme Conditions (LCX)
The approach in developing the LCX system was to provide a combination of advantages in thermal performance, structural capability, and operations. The system is particularly suited for the complex piping, tanks, and apparatus subjected to the ambient environment common in the aerospace industry. The low-cost approach also lends the same technology to industrial applications such as building construction and chilled-water piping. The system can increase reliability and reduce life cycle costs by mitigating moisture intrusion and preventing the resulting corrosion that plagues subambient-temperature insulation systems operating in the ambient (humidity and rain) environment. Accumulated internal water is allowed to drain and release naturally over the systems normal thermal cycles. The thermal insulation system has a long life expectancy because all layer materials are hydrophobic or otherwise waterproof. LCX systems do not need to be perfectly sealed to handle rain, moisture accumulation, or condensation. Mechanically, the LCX system not only withstands impact, vibration, and the stresses of thermal expansion and contraction, but can help support pipes and other structures, all while maintaining its thermal insulation effectiveness. Conventional insulation systems are notoriously difficult to manage around pipe supports because of the cracking and damage that can occur. Used alone or inside another structure or panel, the LCX layering approach can be tailored to provide additional acoustic or vibration damping as a dual function with the thermal insulating benefits. Because LCX systems do not require complete sealing from the weather, it costs less to install. The materials are generally removable, reusable, and recyclable, a feature not possible with other insulation systems. This feature allows removable insulation covers for valves, flanges, and other components (invaluable benefits for servicing or inspection) to be part of original designs. Thermal performance of the LCX system has been shown to equal or exceed that of the best polyurethane foam systems, which can degrade significantly during the first two years of operation. With its inherent springiness, the system allows for simpler installation and, more importantly, better thermal insulation because of its consistency and full contact with the cold surface. Improved contact with the cold surface and better closure of gaps and seams are the keys to superior thermal performance in real systems. Eliminating the requirement for glues, sealants, mastics, expansion joints, and vapor barriers provides dramatic savings in material and labor costs of the installed system.
mechanical and fluid systems
Harsh Environment Protective Housings
These connectors are designed to be used in harsh environments and to withstand rough handling, such as being stepped on or rolled over by wheelbarrows or light vehicles. If the demated connectors are dropped or placed on the ground, the end caps will shield them from damage and contaminants. When mated, the seal between the housings and end caps keeps contaminants out. The end caps are latched to the housings so that the caps cannot be unintentionally opened; this latch can be opened only by depressing the levers. The spring used to open or close the cap is constructed of a shape memory alloy, allowing the cap to be opened and closed an almost infinite number of times. The cap actuation levers are designed so that only a 3/4-inch pull is needed to open the cap a full 190 degrees. The housings can accept most commercial-off-the-shelf electrical or fluid connectors (including those designed for cryogenics), thus eliminating the need for specialized connectors in hostile environments. The housings can also be grounded and scaled up or down to accommodate connectors of different sizes. The housings can be constructed of steel, aluminum, composites, or even plastic, depending on the environment in which they will be used and material cost constraints.
Low-Profile Wireless Sensor
The low-profile sensor is configured with a spiral electrical trace on flexible substrate. In typical inductor designs, the space between traces is designed to minimize parasitic conductance to reduce the impact of the capacitance to neighboring electronics. In the low-profile sensor, however, greater capacitance is desired to allow the operation of an inductor-capacitor circuit. This allows the traces to be closer together, decreasing the overall size of the spiral trace. The sensor receives a signal from the accompanying magnetic field data acquisition system. Once electrically active, the sensor produces its own harmonic magnetic field as the inductor stores and releases magnetic energy. The antenna of the measurement acquisition system is switched from a transmitting to a receiving mode to acquire the magnetic-field response of the sensor. The magnetic-field response attributes of frequency, amplitude, and bandwidth of the inductor correspond to the physical property states measured by the sensor. The received response is correlated to calibration data to determine the physical property measurement. When multiple sensors are inductively coupled, the data acquisition system needs to activate and read only one sensor to obtain measurement data from all of them.
Optical Mass Sensor for Multi-Phase Flows
Unlike commercial turbine and Venturi-type sensors, which are flow intrusive and prone to high error rates, NASA's new flow sensor technology uses an optical technique to precisely measure the physical characteristics of a liquid flowing within a pipe. It generates a reading of the flows density, which provides a highly accurate mass flow measurement when combined with flow velocity data from a second optical sensor. NASA's sensor technology provides both a void fraction measurement, which is a measurement of the instantaneous gas/liquid percentage of a static volume and a quality measurement, which is the fraction of flow that is vapor as part of a total mass flow. It also provides a direct measurement of the gas/liquid concentration within the flow, making it suited for real-time measurement of multi-phase flows. The technology was originally developed to accurately determine the flow rates and tank levels of multi-phase cryogenic fuels used on various NASA vehicles including the Space Shuttle and in ground-based propulsion testing. It can also be used for a wide range of gas/liquid ratios, flows with complex cross sectional profiles, flows containing bubbles or quasi-solids, and essentially any liquid, gas, or multi-phase flow that can be optically characterized. Because it is insensitive to position, the new technology also has potential for use in zero-gravity tank level sensors.
mechanical and fluid systems
Cryogenic Hydraulically Actuated Isolation Valve
NASA's cryogenic isolation valve technology uses solenoid valves powered by direct current (DC) electrical energy to control and redirect the energy stored in the upstream line pressure. Powering the solenoid valves only requires a DC power source capable of supplying 22 watts that can be distributed and controlled in an on/off manner. By achieving actuation using only upstream line pressure and a 22-watt DC power source, many additional support systems that are required for electromechanical and pneumatic actuation are eliminated. This reduction of parts results in several benefits, including reduced footprint, weight, and potential cost of the valve in addition to lower energy consumption. NASA fabricated several operational prototype valves using this technology for a rocket company. The table below shows the results of tests performed on these valves under cryogenic conditions. Please contact the NASA MSFC Technology Transfer Office for additional information.
Fluid Measurement Sensor
The fluid measurement sensor is configured with a spiral electrical trace on flexible substrate. The sensor receives a signal from the accompanying magnetic field data acquisition system. Once electrically active, the sensor produces its own harmonic magnetic field as the inductor stores and releases magnetic energy. The antenna of the measurement acquisition system is switched from transmitting to receiving mode to acquire the magnetic-field response of the sensor. The magnetic-field response attributes of frequency, amplitude, and bandwidth of the inductor correspond to the physical property states measured by the sensor. The received response is correlated to calibrated data to determine the physical property measurement. When multiple sensors are inductively coupled, the data acquisition system only needs to activate and read one sensor to obtain measurement data from all of them. Fluid level measurement occurs in several ways. In the immersion method, the capacitance of the sensor circuit changes as it is immersed in fluid, thus changing the frequency response as the fluid level rises or falls. Fluid level can also be measured from the outside of a non-conductive container. The response frequency from the sensor is dependent upon the inductance of the container plus the combination of fluid and air inside it, which corresponds to the level of liquid inside the container. Roll and pitch are measured by using three or more sensors in a container. With any given orientation, each sensor will detect a different fluid level, thus providing the basis for calculating the fluid angle. Volume can be measured in the same way, using the angle levels detected by the sensors and the geometric characteristics of the container to perform the volume calculation.