NASA is interested in more sophisticated thermal control technologies that can operate in severe environments with a wide range of heat loads. Effective heat rejection is needed for a number of NASA missions especially those associated with planetary and lunar orbits where extreme temperature differences due to lighted versus dark regions challenge radiator systems. Supplemental heat rejection systems are needed with these radiators to fully reject the heat loads from space vehicles. Phase change material (PCM) heat exchangers are capable of supplementing these radiators, especially for long duration missions. These systems store excess thermal energy during periods of high heat loads or hot thermal environments by melting a material within the heat exchanger. At a later time, this heat within the heat exchanger is removed freezing the phase change material. This frozen phase change material is thus capable of adsorbing a heat load again continuing the process.
Innovations in PCM heat exchangers are desired to continue improving the storage capacity of these units in support of many cross-cutting programs at NASA ranging from ISS, to cubesats, satellites, and rovers. In particular, NASA is challenging design innovations for these PCM heat exchangers that have more phase change material and less structural mass, specific goals being at least 2/3 PCM and less than 1/3 structural mass.
Commercial opportunities for the PCM heat exchanger can support electronic systems especially for smoothing out thermal energy during pulsed operations. Additionally, when electronic systems’ cooling systems are temporarily unavailable, a PCM heat exchanger can function as a standby system protecting the electronic system.