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First large fire experiment aboard spacecraft a success: USRA science team and NASA Glenn Research Center scientists successfully ignited the fire

USRA scientists and engineers working with a team of government and university researchers (including Case Western Reserve University) at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland successfully conducted the first remote space flight experiment on an ISS re-supply vehicle to learn how an accidental fire might behave in a spacecraft. NASA's Spacecraft Fire Experiment (Saffire l) was carried inside an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo vehicle that departed the International Space Station on Tuesday, June 14 .

Saffire was remotely controlled from the Orbital ATK Control Center in Dulles, Virginia. The experiment involved the biggest man-made fire in space. To date, only small combustion experiments have been conducted in space. The Saffire experiment took place in a three-by-three-by-five foot tall module equipped to characterize and document the burning of a sample material approximately 16 inches wide and 37 inches long. Images and data captured from inside the module will be transmitted to Orbital ATK and relayed to Glenn prior to Cygnus' destructive reentry to Earth. Researchers at Glenn and 10 other U.S. and international government agencies and universities will analyze the data in the coming weeks.

Video of Sample 1: The ignition of the Saffire-I sample is shown. Smoldering of the sample can be seen behind the flame. Preliminary data indicates the sample burned for about 8 minutes. (Courtesy of NASA's Glenn Research Center) Video of the Pre Test Smoke: At the start of the Saffire-I experiment, smoke trails are visible to show that the flow is uniform before the sample material is ignited. The image consists of two views from two cameras mounted side-by-side, which capture the entire length of the sample. (Courtesy of NASA's Glenn Research Center)

"A fire in space differs significantly from a fire on Earth primarily because of the effects of gravity. Without gravity-driven buoyancy, flames behave very differently," said Christopher Pestak, Director of USRA operations at NASA Glenn. "Microgravity combustion research leads to the selection of safer materials for use in spacecraft, improved fire detection and suppression equipment for spacecraft, and improved combustion models that are being used for a variety of Earth-based applications including transportation and energy conversion."

At NASA Glenn, USRA's Dr. Paul Ferkul, the lead on the team defining the science requirements for Saffire said, "Saffire will provide the first data characterizing how a large-scale fire behaves in microgravity. The experiment will extend our database of microgravity combustion tests to include the burning of fuel samples which are significantly larger than ever studied before. The results will foster spacecraft fire safety through an expanded understanding of combustion in microgravity. The knowledge gained will provide vital data for model validation and lead to improved protocols and material selection techniques to further safeguard astronauts from spacecraft fires."

The Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project that developed the Saffire flight experiment is sponsored by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The three Saffire units were built at NASA Glenn using components fabricated in manufacturing facilities at Glenn, NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Three additional experiment modules will be designed and built by NASA Glenn and launched in Orbital ATK cargo vehicles beginning in 2018.

About USRA

Universities Space Research Association is an independent, nonprofit research corporation where the combined efforts of in-house talent and university-based expertise merge to advance space science and technology. USRA works across disciplines including biomedicine, planetary science, astrophysics, and engineering and integrates those competencies into applications ranging from fundamental research to facility management and operations. USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver sophisticated, forward-looking solutions to Federal agencies and other government sponsors.