. Space Travel News .

FLEX-ible Insight Into Flame Behavior
by Mike Giannone for Glenn Research Center
Cleveland OH (SPX) Dec 07, 2011

FLEX Chamber Insert Assembly Apparatus . (NASA/GRC)

Whether free-burning or smoldering, uncontrolled fire can threaten life and destroy property. On Earth, a little water, maybe some chemicals, and the fire is smothered. In space, where there is no up or down, flames behave in unconventional ways. And when your entire world is the size of a five-bedroom home like the International Space Station, putting out even a small fire quickly is a life-and-death matter.

Since March 2009, NASA's Flame Extinguishment Experiment, or FLEX, has conducted more than 200 tests to better understand the fundamentals of flames and how best to suppress fire in space. The investigation is currently ongoing aboard the space station.

"We hope to gain a better knowledge of droplet burning, improved spacecraft fire safety and ideas for more efficient utilization of liquid fuels on earth," Principal Investigator Forman Williams, University of California, San Diego, said. "The experiments will be used to verify numerical models that calculate droplet burning under different conditions."

When a flame burns on Earth, heated gases rise from the fire creating a buoyant flow that draws oxygen into the flame and combustion products away from it. In space, warm gases do not rise, and molecular diffusion drives flame behavior.

"In space molecular diffusion draws oxygen to the flame and combustion products away from the flame at a rate 100x slower than the buoyant flow on Earth," Dan Dietrich, project scientist, NASA's Glenn Research Center, said.

Flames in space burn with a lower temperature, at a lower rate, and with less oxygen than in normal gravity. This means that materials used to extinguish the fire must be present in higher concentrations. The slow flow of air from the fans mixing the air in a spacecraft can make the flames burn even faster.

To help understand how flames behave and burn in space, FLEX researchers ignite a small drop of either heptane or methanol. As this little sphere of fuel burns for about 20 seconds, it is engulfed by a spherically symmetric flame. The droplet shrinks until either the flame extinguishes or the fuel runs out.

"Thus far the most surprising thing we've observed is continued apparent burning of heptane droplets after flame extinction under certain conditions; currently, this is entirely unexplained," said Williams, who has studied combustion for more than 50 years.

From ignition to extinguishment, the entire event is recorded by cameras housed in the NASA Glenn-designed-and-built Combustion Integrated Rack, or CIR, which is located inside the U.S. Destiny Laboratory module of the space station.

"You have both elements being represented in the FLEX experiment. Both the exploration-driven fire safety research and the more fundamental science research," Dietrich said.

As for the fundamental science of combustion, there are still many discoveries to be made, even for an experienced professor who has studied the subject since college.

"As a Princeton undergrad, I saw in a graduate course the conservation equations of combustion and realized that those equations were complex enough to occupy me for the rest of my life; they contained so much interesting physics," Williams said.

"There are many currently unknown things about combustion processes waiting to be revealed by future scientific experiments."

The better we understand the physics of combustion, the better we can control it and design energy-efficient processes.

Related Links
Station at NASA
Station and More at Roscosmos
S.P. Korolev RSC Energia
Watch NASA TV via Space.TV
Space Station News at Space-Travel.Com

Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
Buy Advertising Editorial Enquiries


. Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Astronaut TJ Creamer Learns Space Station Science From the Ground Up
Huntsville AL (SPX) Dec 07, 2011
He traveled 65,200,000 miles around the planet while living aboard the International Space Station for 161 days, but a new journey has led astronaut TJ Creamer to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The former Expedition 22/23 flight engineer and NASA science officer is now learning what things are like from the ground up - literally. Creamer is training to become a payloa ... read more

Astrium takes a major step forward in the development of Ariane 5 ME

Boeing Receives USAF Reusable Booster System Contract

Soyuz' second mission from French Guiana is readied at the Spaceport

On the record with Arianespace

New Tool for Touring Mars Using Detailed Images


Mars Opportunity Rover Finds Rich Vein Of Gypsum Water Deposits

Opportunity Spent Holiday at 'Turkey Haven'

Schafer Corp Signs Licensing Agreement with MoonDust Technologies

Russia wants to focus on Moon if Mars mission fails

Flying over the three-dimensional Moon

LRO Camera Team Releases High Resolution Global Topographic Map of Moon

New Horizons Becomes Closest Spacecraft to Approach Pluto

Pluto's Hidden Ocean

Is the Pluto System Dangerous?

Starlight study shows Pluto's chilly twin

New Planet Kepler-21b discovery a partnership of both space and ground-based observations

Astronomers Find Goldilocks Planet and Others

Giant Super-Earths Made Of Diamond Are Possible

The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a new online database of habitable worlds

Orion Continues to Make a Splash

First J-2X Combustion Stability Test a Success

NASA Ready to Test Upgraded J-2X Powerpack

Lockheed Martin Selected USAF for Reusable Booster System Flight Demonstrator Program

Philatelic Cover Reveals the secret names of second Taikonaut team

First Crew for Tiangong

China post office offers letters from space

15 patents granted for Chinese space docking technology

Dawn Soars Over Asteroid Vesta in 3D

Deep Impact Spacecraft Eyes the Future

Student Developed Software Helps To Detect Near Earth Asteroids

Lutetia: a Rare Survivor from the Birth of the Earth


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2012 - Space Media Network. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement