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Space Station: What’s in that Glovebox?

Credit: NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) is the focal point for “heated” debate!

An experiment is bridging the gap between normal gravity material flammability screening tests, short time ground-based microgravity tests and actual zero-gravity spacecraft conditions.

Called the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) experiment, the work is underway within the ISS.

“The basic applied hypothesis is that we believe that in certain conditions a material in zero-gravity will actually be more flammable than it is in normal gravity,” said Paul Ferkul, a scientist with the National Center for Space Exploration Research (NCSER) in Cleveland and Principal Investigator for the experiment.

Microgravity glovebox

The BASS experiment will burn 41 fuel samples (the majority of the samples will be ignited and burned multiple times).

BASS will also assess the effectiveness of an inert, gaseous extinguishing agent (similar to that used on ISS) in putting out flames over different materials, in different geometries and at different flows.

Astronaut Don Pettit is conducting the BASS experiment within the ISS Microgravity Science Glovebox.

To date, five BASS samples have been successfully burned and extinguished, according to a press statement.

Why onboard the ISS?

In space, the lack of gravity provides the opportunity to study a larger range of flame characteristics than could be studied on Earth.

The absence of gravity’s effects on convection aboard the Space Station or other space vehicle makes flames behave in a different manner. Similarly, suppressing fires in microgravity is different than on Earth, since in microgravity it may not be clear where the base point of a flame is, and the stabilization zone may not be apparent.

While microgravity conditions can be achieved on Earth using drop towers, these facilities only provide microgravity for a few seconds. Of particular interest to scientists is the long-duration burn of combustible materials that can only be achieved in space.

The combustion experiment is jointly designed by scientists and engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).

“The importance and direct application of the BASS experiment – spacecraft fire safety and astronaut well being – cannot be over emphasized. Wider implications of the experiment, through computer simulations, also apply to many different Earth-bound combustion systems,” explains Don Kniffen, USRA’s Vice President for Science.

By Leonard David

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