Rocket test will carry Purdue experiment

Nov 30, 2009 by Emil Venere

(PhysOrg.com) -- Purdue University researchers are designing and building an experiment that will operate during a test flight of a new type of reusable rocket to be launched by aerospace company Blue Origin LLC.

The experiment will be used to study how fluids behave in low gravity, providing information that could help engineers design better components for a variety of technologies used both on the Earth and in space, said Steven Collicott, a professor in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

It is one of three scientific research payloads recently selected by Blue Origin to be carried to suborbital altitudes during a flight test of the company's New Shepard rocket. The rocket enables researchers to study phenomena that cannot be effectively observed on Earth or during the relatively brief low-gravity periods that can be created in aircraft flights, Collicott said.

Such experiments provide critical data for creating better mathematical models used to design technologies that rely on the precise control of fluids, said Collicott, who leads work to build the university's experiment.

Purdue's experiment, funded by the National Science Foundation, involves studying conditions in which liquid wicks or remains stationary when influenced by a specially designed structure inside a spherical vessel.

"There has not been a good mathematical foundation for making predictions about the performance of systems that have practical three-dimensional shapes," Collicott said.

The transparent spherical vessel will contain vanes, or thin metal plates, that will be moved progressively closer to the vessel's inner walls during the three-minute, low-gravity portion of the flight. The researchers will use a camera to record and study how fluid wicks within this shrinking gap between the vanes and vessel walls.

Various types of devices rely on wicking fluid, or fluid physics, including spaceflight life-support and fuel systems, and, for applications operated in ordinary Earth gravity, small fuel cells and miniature sensors and instrumentation for health sciences.

Because of the weightlessness of a spacecraft in orbit, liquid propellants float freely inside fuel tanks and water drops bounce around inside recycling systems. This complicates efforts to design fluid management systems for spacecraft, Collicott said.

To compensate, engineers have developed devices called vanes and screens. Vanes are grooves designed to guide fluid through a tank, and screens filter out bubbles. Both devices use capillary forces to position the fluid, or create "capillary flow."

However, complex three-dimensional capillary action is difficult to study in Earth laboratories, and mathematical models of the "critical wetting" that takes place in these devices are based largely on two-dimensional analyses, which restricts application of these models to cylindrical vessels, Collicott said.

"Yet most practical systems are not cylinders," Collicott said. "So we need data about what happens in practical three-dimensional geometries such as spheres. We predict beforehand with computer models what will happen and then compare those predictions with data from the experiment. If the predictions of the computational model are confirmed, then the model is shown to be useful for practical design work. If not, we will know where additional model development is required."

The sphere is about 5 inches in diameter, and the entire experiment, including the camera and lighting system, will fit in a container about 18 inches square and 9 inches high.

The rocket will reach an altitude of about 100 kilometers, or 60 miles. The New Shepard rockets are reusable, reducing the cost of flights.

"That's one of the great things about the emerging commercial rocket industry," Collicott said. "The private sector is finding ways to dramatically reduce the cost of suborbital spaceflight for research and for tourism through innovation."

The Purdue team is scheduled to deliver the experiment by next November to Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash. The company will launch the rocket from its West Texas launch site. A launch date has not been announced.

Provided by Purdue University (news : web)

Explore further: Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How to Manage Floating Fluids in Space

Jul 03, 2007

Six months is a long time to be away from home. But Astronaut Sunita Williams had plenty of work to keep her busy during her stay on the International Space Station, including a group of experiments she dubbed ...

Engineers rescue aging satellites, saving millions

Sep 05, 2007

Researchers have used a new technique to save $60 million for broadcasters by extending the service life of two communications satellites. The technique works by applying an advanced simulation and a method that equalizes ...

Purdue research helps advance new rocket technology

Aug 08, 2006

Purdue University engineers are conducting research to help the United States develop a type of advanced rocket technology that uses kerosene and would not require the foam insulation now used on the space shuttle's external ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

11 minutes ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

51 minutes ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

1 hour ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

20 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

23 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Astronaut salary

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...