NASA selects promising Purdue space technologies for commercial flight tests

Steven Collicott, Purdue University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, shown here in zero gravity, will have four projects under grants. (Photo provided)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Faculty members in Purdue University’s schools of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Mechanical Engineering are among a list of 28 researchers whose technologies have been selected to receive funding under NASA’s Tech Flights solicitation.

Steven Collicott , professor of aeronautics and astronautics, will receive four separate grants totaling $1.8 million for four different experiments. Issam Mudawar, the Betty Ruth and Milton B. Hollander Family Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will receive one grant in the amount of $649,851.

“By supporting suborbital flight testing, our Flight Opportunities program aims to help ensure that these innovations are well-positioned to address challenges and enable NASA to achieve its lunar ambitions, while also contributing to a growing and vibrant commercial space industry,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

NASA, in an Oct. 14 press release, announced its selections in two topic areas that reflect current priorities. The topics helped NASA identify technologies that could further the agency’s lunar exploration goals under the Artemis program and its use of commercial suborbital flight and low-Earth orbit platforms for research applications. 

NASA Category: “Supporting Sustainable Lunar Exploration and the Expansion of Economic Activity into Cislunar Space:”

Collicott grants:

  • A medical suction device integrated with a microgravity surgical facility will be evaluated, with the aim of delivering a combined system prototype for suborbital testing. The technology is planned to fly on ZERO-G company’s “G-FORCE ONE” airplane.

“This grant combines previous developments in zero-g surgical tools by Professor George Pantalos of the University of Louisville and Dr. Marsh Cuttino of Orbital Medicine Inc.,” Collicott said.

This testing will combine Pantalos’ proven Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS) with the successful blood-air separator design by Collicott and Cuttino.

“In a spacecraft far from Earth, the blood and the air are both vital and limited and must be captured and separated for infusion or breathing. This project seeks to demonstrate the combination of devices in parabolic flight as an important step toward a complete surgical suite for long-duration human space flight,” Collicott said.

  • A liquid-vapor nitrogen system will be evaluated with the goal of advancing the state-of-the-art for long-term cryogenic propellant storage in space. The technology is planned to fly on the ZERO-G company’s “G-FORCE ONE” airplane.

“Our current part of the big picture is investigating how the formation of bubbles in liquid nitrogen is influenced by various internal structures in the propellant tank,” Collicott said.

Collicott said that this experiment proposal was motivated by collaborator Mo Kassemi, professor at Case Western University and principal investigator of the Zero Boil-Off Test, recently performed in the International Space Station.

  • A sensor payload will be used to gather data about the heat transfer from a lander’s rocket plume to its legs, with the goal of enabling robust designs for future landers. The technology is planned to fly on Masten’s Xodiac.

“The Purdue temperature measurement instruments —  thermocouples, reversible and irreversible color-changing materials and infrared cameras — will fly on the Masten rocket to measure the heating. This data will then be used to minimize vehicle weight and allow more payload to maximize mission success,” Collicott said.

Mudawar grant:

  • An experiment aimed at enabling development of highly accurate models for the prediction of flow boiling rates will be conducted, with the goal of improving space-based propellant management. The experiment is planned to fly on ZERO-G company’s “G-FORCE ONE” airplane.

His project, titled “Reduced Gravity Experiments to Measure Cryogenic Two-Phase Heat Transfer Coefficients for Future In-Space Transfer Systems,” is a joint project between Purdue University and NASA Glenn Research Center.

“It will utilize parabolic flight experiments to acquire much-needed microgravity heat transfer data using liquid nitrogen as part of the efforts for near-term return of humans to the moon – for long-term exploration and use – and, thereafter, to Mars and other destinations,” Mudawar said.

NASA Category: “Fostering the Commercialization of Low-Earth and Utilization of Suborbital Space”

Collicott grant:

  • A handheld, automated video control system will be tested as a possible tool for suborbital flight experiments that rely on video to monitor operations, record data and aid post-flight technology assessments. The technology is planned to fly on ZERO-G’s Force One. This is a small project that will benefit other researchers, Collicott said.

“There are very affordable, compact and lightweight self-contained 4K high-definition video cameras on the market, but they are not able to be controlled by a microprocessor or computer like a more expensive scientific camera can,” he said.

This project assesses computer control of the cameras using a voice chip.

“Testing this in the noisy cabin during parabolic flight is important to perform,” Collicott said.

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