NASA testing next generation spacecraft heat exchangers

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The crew members inside the International Space Station (ISS) have started to receive a unique hardware discovery, which can be used to plan the upcoming manned mission by NASA beyond Earth and into deep space.

With the help of the Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX), scientists successfully performed a ride to the space station on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft launched on July 18 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. As soon as the Dragon arrived at the space station on July 20, the crew started to unload nearly 5000 pounds of hardware for a wide range of study in the areas of science, research, and hardware.

Commenting on the development, Rubik Sheth, Project Manager, Thermal Systems Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston disclosed that the use of wax dates back to 221-206 BC and hence it’s not ideal for 21st-century space travel.

The recently revealed hardware will help NASA to unravel the advancements in space technologies. Moreover, it will help NASA scientists to find new techniques and approaches for the agency’s future missions including the development of solutions for the benefit of the nation.

The phase changer material heat exchanger also called as PCM HX shortly stores energy with the help of a phase modification material such as wax using hot coolant.

The stored energy is released by the radiator on the spacecraft, which will refreeze the wax and make it available for the next batch of heat load. According to Sheth, this new type of heat exchanger will not only enable offset heat experienced by Orion but also to regulate temperature.

The main purpose of testing this concept in a space station is to verify whether it works in microgravity. If it works properly, then the next step is to implement the concept.

Sheth added that wax was initially used as a passive means of cooling internal spare parts on lunar rovers in the Apollo moon-landing project but the final results were not consistent and reliable.

Inside ISS, the hardware equipment can operate both day and night. However, the unit consumes a lot of power when it works under low temperatures between 10 and 30-degree Celsius. The scientists in NASA will evaluate the wax for any deformity and will cut it in half. This will happen only after the wax is brought back to NASA.

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