After a preliminary review of the data, NASA labeled its second round of fire-in-space experiments a success, and has just released the footage of another empty Cygnus spacecraft getting turned into smithereens.
Following Cygnus’ departure from the International Space Station (ISS) on November 21, ground controllers initiated an experiment, dubbed Saffire (aka the Spacecraft Fire Experiment), which intentionally began a series of fires aboard the unpiloted aircraft, as part of an effort to understand how fires in space behave and how NASA could successfully contain and extinguish such flames.
Tucked inside the Cygnus was a special fire-proof container which housed nine different flammable samples. Once the command was issued, each of the nine samples was lit on fire and scientists recorded how they burned via photo and videos. All data collected will allow scientists to learn how flames grow and how they are fueled in microgravity.
In a pre-launch news release, Gary Ruff, Saffire project manager explained, “A spacecraft fire is one of the greatest crew safety concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community.”
Jitendra Joshi, a technology integration lead for NASA’s advanced exploration systems further explained that how a fire propagates in microgravity is one of the least understood risks of space travel. “If you have an emergency, you can’t call 911 like you can here on Earth,” Joshi explained.
According to the scientists, the results of this experiment will be able to answer questions like: “How do you control the fire? How do you detect the fire? How fast will it spread?”
This experiment is just the second iteration in a series of six, that once completed will provide scientists with unprecedented details on how fires start and evolve in the absence of gravity.
The nine samples on Saffire 2 varied in size, with some measuring as large as 2 inches by 10 inches, and were selected to show scientists how each material responded. Four different silicon samples were burned, each with a different thickness, along with a pieces of Nomex — which is a known commercial fire retardant. Also among the samples were bits of plexiglass (which is commonly used to manufacture spacecraft windows), and cotton-fiber.
This second fire experiment, builds on the success of the previous experiment (Saffire I), which was the largest controlled burn in space to date. That experiment, along with the upcoming Saffire-III, are designed to quantify the size of the flame and how fast it spreads.
With Saffire II, the team wanted to test new materials, with smaller individual fires than seen in the first experiment. The experiment also focused on identifying a flame’s oxygen limits, essentially looking for the point at which the fire might extinguish itself.
Preliminary reports show that the experiment worked as planned, and that the scientists received all the photos and videos they were hoping for. More specific results will be issued after the team has had time to digest all the data. The science team is based at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and are hoping these experiments will help make future spacecraft safer and will also help engineers outfit those vehicles with safer materials.