NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X6.09-8414
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Space Transportation Test Requirements and Instrumentation
PROPOSAL TITLE: Propellant Conditioning Using Improved Pulse Tube Cryocooler

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
426 Croghan Street
Fremont, OH 43420-2448

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Alexander J. Yeckley
11401 Hoover Rd.
Milan, OH 44846-9711

Application of the proposed technology (an affordable, large-scale, high-efficiency, low-temperature pulse tube cryocooler system), serves two NASA needs: an improved cryogenic propellant conditioning method and an economical technique to maintain the lowest possible liquid propellant feed temperature. These needs exist at a variety of NASA facilities, yet little progress has been made beyond laboratory development. One barrier to acceptance is the cost of manufacturing large scale pulse tubes. Sierra Lobo, Inc. has found that through previous research involving conventional manufacturing techniques, two particular components common to all pulse tube cryocoolers contribute to approximately 50% of the cost. In view of the February 24, 2004, Executive Order encouraging innovation in manufacturing related research and development via the SBIR program, the primary objective of Phase I of this research is to study and develop improvements to the existing pulse tube manufacturing process. If successful, the resulting technology advancement would benefit a variety of current and future NASA programs managed by the Exploration Systems Office and the Science Mission Office, especially those involving long-term cryogenic storage systems. An even greater benefit is expected for the commercial application of pulse tube cryocoolers in facilitating the advancement of distributed high-temperature superconducting power systems.

The primary potential NASA application for large-scale pulse tube technology is the conditioning of propellants at rocket engine test facilities. The engines tested at these facilities are typically designed for normal boiling-point temperature propellants. At some test facilities however, propellants are temporarily stored at very high pressures. This can cause the temperature of the propellants provided to the engine at the test stands to be higher than the temperature of the propellants provided to the engine during actual launch operations. Minimizing or eliminating this temperature difference establishes a greater degree of confidence in the engine test results.

A key opportunity for large scale pulse tube cryocooler technology is use with high temperature superconductivity (HTS) devices such as motors, generators, transformers, and cables. Such widely-distributed systems will require active cryogenic systems that are more efficient, reliable, and have lower capital costs than current off-the-self cryogenic systems. In addition, the physical size, maintainability and operation must not constrain the expected benefits of high temperature superconductivity power equipment. Large-scale pulse tube cryocoolers are an essential technology that will enable cryogenic systems to meet the stringent requirements of HTS devices.