NASA is making hot, way cool

May 26, 2011
This is a close-up of the pump being tested on a Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket mission from the Wallops Flight Facility in June. Credit: NASA

The more advanced the electronics, the more power they use. The more power they use, the hotter they get. The hotter they get, the more likely they'll overheat. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand what typically happens next: The electronics fry.

In the world of electronics, thermal control is always one of the limiting factors -- particularly in space where there is no air to help cool down electronic components.

However, Jeffrey Didion, a thermal engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Dr. Jamal Seyed-Yagoobi, a professor at the Illinois Institute of in Chicago, Ill., have collaborated to develop a technology that may overcome current limitations. They have formed technical partnerships with the U.S. Air Force and to address the thermal-control concerns.

Called electrohydrodynamic (EHD)-based thermal control, the technology promises to make it easier and more efficient to remove heat from small spaces -- a particular challenge for engineers building advanced space instruments and microprocessors that could fail if the heat they generate is not removed.

"Today, higher-power computer chips are available, but they generate too much heat," said Didion, who is leading the technology-development effort also involving Matthew Showalter, associate branch chief of Goddard's Advanced Manufacturing Branch, and Mario Martins of Edge Space Systems, an engineering company specializing in thermal systems in Glenelg, Md. "If I can carry away more heat, engineers will be able to use higher-power components. In other words, they will be able to do more things."

The project, a joint activity between NASA Goddard and its partners, received support from the Goddard Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program, which funds the development of promising new technologies that could advance NASA's scientific and exploration goals. It is being demonstrated in June on a Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket mission, which also is flying the Small Rocket/Spacecraft Technology (SMART) platform, a microsatellite also developed at Goddard. This new microsatellite measures about 16 inches in diameter and was specifically designed to give scientific users less expensive access to space. (Read the related press release.)

The main objective of the EHD demonstration is showing that a prototype pump can withstand the extreme launch loads as the rocket lifts off and hurtles toward space. Should it survive the vibration, the technology will have achieved a major milestone in its development, Didion said. It will mean that it is at or near operational status, making it a viable technology for use on spaceflight instruments.

"Any electronic device that generates a lot of heat is going to benefit from this technology," said Ted Swanson, assistant chief for technology for Goddard's Mechanical Systems Division. This could include everything from sensors flown in space to those used in automobiles and aircraft.

No Moving Parts

The technology promises significant advantages over more traditional cooling techniques. Unlike current technologies used today by instrument and component developers, EHD does not rely on mechanical pumps and other moving parts. Instead, it uses electric fields to pump coolant through tiny ducts inside a thermal cold plate. From there, the waste heat is dumped onto a radiator and dispersed far from heat-sensitive circuitry that must operate within certain temperature ranges. "Its architecture, therefore, is relatively straightforward," Didion said. Electrodes apply the voltage that pushes the coolant through the ducts.

"The advantages are many," he added. "Without mechanical parts, the system is lighter and consumes less power, roughly half a watt. But perhaps more importantly, the system can be scaled to different sizes, from larger cold plates to microscale electronic components and lab-on-a-chip devices."

In addition to flying the technology on the sounding rocket mission, the EHD development team will fly a prototype EHD cold plate as an experiment on the International Space Station in 2013. "This effort will demonstrate the long-term operation of an EHD thermal-control system," Didion said.

Lab-on-a-Chip Devices

In the meantime, the team is continuing its work to further advance EHD, Didion said. The team is working with Goddard detector engineer Timothy Miller to develop EHD pumps in microchannels that are etched onto silicon wafers. They plan to further experiment with other substrate and composite materials as well as special micro-fabrication techniques and coatings to create smaller, more robust EHD pumps.

These multifunctional devices could be used as stand-alone, off-the-shelf components ideal for quick-turnaround spacecraft -- a capability that particularly interests the Air Force -- or as units embedded within the walls of the electronic device.

The next step is placing the technology on circuit cards, with the ultimate goal of scaling it to the chip level where the ducts would be no larger than 100 microns (0.0039 inch), or about the width of a human hair. "The point is that you want to place the thermal-control unit closer to the source of heat," Didion said. "This would be a lot more efficient at eliminating waste heat."

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User comments : 25

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spectator
1 / 5 (3) May 26, 2011
One wonders how they are dealing with the fact EHD produces a lot of waste heat and other wasted energy itelf.

Let's see:

Heat
Corona
Electrical arcing

All three of these should decrease with the width of the wires involved, but the point I'm making is this is not some magical technology.

I've seen extensive testing a few years ago by a guy who was trying to learn to make macroscopic EHD for propulsion technology, and the reality is a common fan moves more air per unit energy.
that_guy
4.5 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
I wonder how this compares to the new pumpless method that nvidia is using on some of its new graphic chips.

It looks like they are using some pretty similar concepts.
Jeffhans1
not rated yet May 26, 2011
A common fan is not a good idea inside a satellite in space though. I assume this is designed around packing more powerful electronics in smaller spaces for space based research and intel work.
spectator
3 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
I wonder how this compares to the new pumpless method that nvidia is using on some of its new graphic chips.

It looks like they are using some pretty similar concepts.


It's the same thing as the Dyson EHD "Fan".

You have a plate and a wire, and you pump ultra-high voltage (produced using a transformer,) through the wire and it produces a charge difference which drives the air through the channel, I think, due to partial charge difference on opposite sides of molecules in the air (something like that anyway).

To me, it's a bit of a surprise they are trying to make this work at microscopic scales, since I was under the impression that arcing and cross-talk are already a problem for ordinary wiring applications at those scales.

In EHD, as far as I know anyway, the wires have to be naked in order to make it work. NOt exactly safe for humans at the macro scale.

That's why I'm wondering how they avoid this system frying a circuit board or chips...
spectator
1 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
This is a macro scale example of what they are building:

blazelabs.com/l-perf.asp

Whereas these were designed for him to study the net lift that different designs could provide, the dyson air thing was mounted and used as a fan. Which is ironic that some guy was sitting on a gold mine and never though of making a commercial product, since he was so interested in making an engine with it...

Anyway, it's the same thing scaled down to micro scales, and mounted so it doesn't blow away, and serves as a blade-less fan.
Pyle
not rated yet May 26, 2011
I don't get it. Well, the coolant circulation system I get; "EHD-based thermal contol". But where does the heat go? Sure you can push it to a reservoir, but what then? Doesn't the heat need to be converted into some form of energy that can be either irradiated or reused?
I guess you just have to have a large enough reservoir to throw your heat in. Seems like you could fill it up too easily though.

@spec: Fans? They aren't proposing a gas as a coolant are they? Otherwise, what are your fans blowing? Liquid coolant? That is the whole mechanical system they are trying to replace.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (4) May 26, 2011
and the reality is a common fan moves more air per unit energy.


well yeah... if there was air in space...

and as pyle said, they aren't moving air, they are moving ammonia in a closed system. Also one of their pumps failed last year and forced them to haul up another spare and turn off a bunch of electronics. So just by not having any moving parts it automatically becomes something they want to use because it has less failure potential. And unless you're just outright calling the researchers liars, it apparently moves the coolant for less power too.
"The advantages are many," he added. "Without mechanical parts, the system is lighter and consumes less power


Sure you can push it to a reservoir, but what then?

you push the warmed up coolant to another heat exchanger attached to very large radiators. it is difficult but not impossible to radiate heat in space. They have been doing it for a very long time. This is just a better pump.
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 26, 2011
you push the warmed up coolant to another heat exchanger attached to very large radiators. it is difficult but not impossible to radiate heat in space. They have been doing it for a very long time. This is just a better pump.


Why not use a compressor unit instead of radiators? Sure it costs energy... but depending on the appliance of the craft it should not be a problem ?
that_guy
5 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
A common fan is not a good idea inside a satellite in space though. I assume this is designed around packing more powerful electronics in smaller spaces for space based research and intel work.


No one mentioned a fan. and as fmbrestel pointed out, there is no air in space. don't comment on something if you don't know what the reference is.
spectator
1 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
I'm aware of the space radiator thing.

My statement was regarding the micro and nano scales in computers.

It doesn't matter what the fluid is as it regards the EHD effect itself. It should in principle work with most liquids and gases.
Sparkygravity
not rated yet May 27, 2011
So am I correct that this is just a fancy-worded article about creating a heat-pump using a series of thermoelectric cooling plates via the Peltier effect and a series of water reserve heat sinks?
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
So am I correct that this is just a fancy-worded article about creating a heat-pump using a series of thermoelectric cooling plates via the Peltier effect and a series of water reserve heat sinks?

no because it's not water it's ammonia, and there aren't any thermoelectric cooling plates.

My statement was regarding the micro and nano scales in computers.

which this tangentially related to this article at best. Start a forum post then.

Why not use a compressor unit instead of radiators? Sure it costs energy... but depending on the appliance of the craft it should not be a problem ?

The article seems to spell out the advantages fairly clearly, namely: fewer moving parts = less chance to fail (as one has already done), less power (doesn't matter in your home, but it does on a space station), weighs less (gotta launch them, and weight costs $s)
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 27, 2011
The article seems to spell out the advantages fairly clearly

articles are not really of high quality on physorg.
, namely: fewer moving parts = less chance to fail (as one has already done)

true.
, less power (doesn't matter in your home, but it does on a space station)

Half true. First, it depends on the space-station, the orbit, PV, batteries etc. Second, with a compressor unit you wont need a pump because of thermal effects.
, weighs less (gotta launch them, and weight costs $s)

False. a compressor unit would weigh the same or less as a radiator, a radiator would be more massive with the same cooling-effect, meaning a compressor unit weighs less.

Unless they use the heat for other purposes and not to just radiate them away, a compressor is more convenient than a radiator and they could even be combined.
fmfbrestel
3.7 / 5 (3) May 27, 2011
Unless they use the heat for other purposes and not to just radiate them away, a compressor is more convenient than a radiator and they could even be combined.

You cant not have a radiator. You absolutely must be able to dissipate the heat into space. Unless you are just going to launch a ridiculous amount of coolant to your station and then just jettison the warmed up material. which would be crazy (literary insane) expensive.
There is just no way to get around the radiator. This is just a way to get the heat to the radiator without using as much electricity, with fewer failure modes, and weighing less then the old mechanical pumps.
Pyle
not rated yet May 27, 2011
Quick, lazy, question. How does the radiator "radiate" in space?
Na_Reth
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
Unless they use the heat for other purposes and not to just radiate them away, a compressor is more convenient than a radiator and they could even be combined.

You cant not have a radiator. You absolutely must be able to dissipate the heat into space. Unless you are just going to launch a ridiculous amount of coolant to your station and then just jettison the warmed up material. which would be crazy (literary insane) expensive.
There is just no way to get around the radiator. This is just a way to get the heat to the radiator without using as much electricity, with fewer failure modes, and weighing less then the old mechanical pumps.

Any idea how a fridge works?
How did you get 5 rated for that?
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
Any idea how a fridge works?

It expels heat through radiators in the back.

Yeah, it also uses a closed loop compression/decompression system, but it also creates a ton of waste heat which is expelled at the back of your fridge. Go ahead take and take a look before embarrassing yourself again.

fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
Quick, lazy, question. How does the radiator "radiate" in space?


Good question, space radiators rely on direct infrared radiation. On the ISS they look like smaller versions of the solar arrays except that they are grey in appearance and hang at 90 degrees from the solar arrays.
Bog_Mire
not rated yet May 27, 2011
QC, the trolls troll. Relevance depletion syndrome. One of the worse cases I have seen.....
Na_Reth
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
The fridge was just a bad example. With proper liquids and compression there is no waste heat.
that_guy
not rated yet May 27, 2011
@na reth

fmfbrestel is right. most cooling systems will barely work, if at all if it does not have some kind of radiator on it.

The back of your fridge with the grid of little tubes is the fridge's radiator. your ac with the big box on top of your roof, that is a radiator. Even rocket cones with fuel lines running around them are a type of radiator (Keeps the cone from melting and warms the incoming fuel)

The only type of cooling system I can think of that does not have a discrete radiator is a swamp cooler...but that has to be open to the air...so the evaporated water can disperse...much like a radiator disperses heat.
that_guy
not rated yet May 27, 2011
The fridge was just a bad example. With proper liquids and compression there is no waste heat.


The heat that you are pulling from whatever you are trying to cool is waste heat na reth...in addition to the extra waste heat you create while doing that...

If you are using a non-radiator system (Such as the swamp cooler example), your coolant is useless after it undergoes phase change. It will no longer be a coolant unless you can get rid of the heat. So you can a)wastefully vent it out into space, or b)use a heat transfer system to move the heat - such as a radiator - and radiators are great because they get rid of that bit of heat for good, instead of transferring to another part of your craft.

I beg you, please take some time on wikipedia to research the concept of cooling systems.

Or you could extrapolate from the laws of thermodynamics. but that would take longer.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet May 27, 2011
Thanks for the help that_guy :-)
unknownorgin
not rated yet May 28, 2011
They are using micro ducts with electrodes a few thousands of an inch apart so a low voltage will generate the eletrostatic field needed and so they are only using around one half watt of power. Wattage=voltage X current. The dark side of the moon is one of the coldest places in the solar system because heat will radiate into space and the dark side of a spacecraft is also very cold. It is possible to get electronics too cold to operate also. On a clear summer night go out and touch the roof of your car and notice how cold it is because heat is radiating into space (infared radiation).

SincerelyTwo
not rated yet May 28, 2011
"and the reality is a common fan moves more air per unit energy."

... Your attention span failed you that quickly? The subject is the challenges of cooling electronic components in space, maybe you want to RTFA a few more times keeping in mind the established context (space) of the subject (cooling electronic components where there is no atmosphere).