June 14, 2016 – Understanding how fire spreads in a microgravity environment is critical to the safety of astronauts who live and work in space. Fire safety will be a critical element as NASA progresses on the journey to Mars and begins to investigate deep space habitats for long duration missions.
The Spacecraft Fire Experiment (Saffire) is a three-part experiment that will be conducted over the course of three flights of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus vehicle to investigate large-scale flame spread and material flammability limits in long duration microgravity.
And while NASA has conducted studies aboard the space shuttle and International Space Station, risks to the crew have forced these experiments to be limited in size and scope. Previous to this experiment, the largest fire experiment that has been conducted in space is about the size of an index card.
The Saffire-I experiment enclosure is approximately half a meter wide by 1 meter deep by 1.3 meter long and consists of a flow duct and avionics bay. Inside the flow duct is a sample to be burned, which is a cotton-fiberglass material blend 0.4 m wide by 1 meter long.
When Cygnus was a safe distance from the space station, ground controllers at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and at Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, successfully powered on Saffire and tested its operating system.
Saffire-I was ignited by a hot wire inside the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft and telemetry indicates that the cotton-fiberglass material blend is burning successfully.
Cygnus will continue to orbit Earth for up to eight days as it transmits high-resolution imagery and data from the Saffire experiment. Following complete data transmission, the Cygnus spacecraft will complete its destructive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Saffire-I launched inside the Cygnus spacecraft atop the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle on March 22, 2016. Space Station Crew members successfully grappled Cygnus to the space station on March 26.
The Saffire experiments were developed at NASA Glenn Research Center by the Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project and sponsored by the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. AES pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities, and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond low-Earth orbit. AES activities are uniquely related to crew safety and mission operations in deep space, with a strong focus on future vehicle development.