Refueling spacecraft in space offers tremendous benefits for increased spacecraft payload capacity and reduced launch cost. However, in a microgravity environment, acquiring vapor-free cryogenic liquid propellants from supply tanks and then transferring them to receiving tanks is very challenging. To address this challenge, Creare developed a robust, lightweight hybrid Liquid Acquisition Device (LAD) with screened channels for cryogenic propellants. The hybrid LAD has a novel configuration enabled by Creare’s unique fabrication processes. Creare’s LAD employs a hybrid capillary structure to position the residual liquid in a tank to optimum locations to maintain liquid supply for the LAD screen surfaces, and thus enhance the expulsion efficiency. Creare’s innovative fabrication process reliably maintains the pore structure of the screen near bonding joints with its support frames. The lightweight support frames provide mechanical support for the screen to withstand launch vibrations. In Phase I, we successfully demonstrated the feasibility and performance benefits of our approach through designing, fabricating, and testing a proof-of-concept screened channel. In Phase II, we will build and demonstrate a laboratory-scale hybrid LAD and deliver it to NASA for further evaluation.
The technology developed in this project will enable reliable spacecraft refueling in a microgravity environment. Creare’s lightweight LAD will enable almost all the propellants in the supply tank to be transferred to a spacecraft engine, and thus significantly reduce the effective launch cost of spacecraft. The technology also has applications as phase separators in two-phase bio and chemical reactors, as well as in fluid management for two-phase flow thermal management and power systems.
The technology developed in this project has applications in propellant acquisition systems in commercial spacecraft, and gravity-insensitive aircraft fuel supply systems. The capillary structure fabrication technology developed in this program will also have many applications in terrestrial two-phase thermal management systems.