Flame Extinguishment Experiment - 2 (FLEX-2) - 08.18.16
The Flame Extinguishment - 2 (FLEX-2) experiment is the second experiment to fly on the ISS which uses small droplets of fuel to study the special spherical characteristics of burning fuel droplets in space. The FLEX-2 experiment studies how quickly fuel burns, the conditions required for soot to form, and how mixtures of fuels evaporate before burning. Understanding these processes could lead to the production of a safer spacecraft as well as increased fuel efficiency for engines using liquid fuel on Earth.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending Experiment Details
Forman A. Williams, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States
C. Thomas Avedisian, Ph.D., Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States
Frederick L. Dryer, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, United States
Benjamin D. Shaw, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Vedha Nayagam, National Center for Space Exploration Research, Cleveland, OH, United States
Mun Y. Choi, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, United States
NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States
ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
NASA Research Office - Space Life and Physical Sciences (NASA Research-SLPS)
ISS Expedition Duration
October 2009 - March 2016; March 2016 - March 2017
The Fiber Supported Droplet Combustion Experiment, (FSDC), a predecessor to MDCA-FLEX was performed on STS-73 (October 20, 1995) and STS-83 (April 4, 1997). The Droplet Combustion Experiment (DCE), another predecessor was performed on STS-83 (April 4, 1997) and STS-94 (July 1, 1997). The fundamentals addressed by these experiments are essential to the fundamentals that impact fire sensing and suppression technologies applicable to space exploration environments.
- The forces, known as buoyant forces, which cause cold air to sink and hot air to rise in gravitational environments also cause fires to burn differently on Earth than they do in microgravity.
- The FLEX-2 experiments are designed to explore the burning characteristics of droplets in the absence of buoyant forces.
- Understanding how fires burn in microgravity will help to improve fire-safety in manned space vehicles and will also contribute to the development of liquid fuel burning engines by increasing their efficiencies.
Studies of the liquid-phase mixing of the different components in fuels clarifies the way practical fuels turn to gas from liquid in the combustion process. Understanding soot formation during the combustion of liquid fuels is also studied. These studies are important due to soot’s negative effects on the environment and on human health. Knowledge of soot formation also has practical uses in certain industrial processes. The interactions of droplets with their gaseous environments and with other droplets are studied to reveal the fundamental dynamics of combustion.
In the absence of gravity, small droplets of fuel (i.e., from 2 mm to 4 mm in diameter) burn "one-dimensionally", which means the flame will be shaped a like ball about the size of a large olive that will be centered around the droplet. This one-dimensional nature of the droplet flame allows the science team to easily measure and understand important features of the burning fuel that would otherwise be impossible to obtain on the ground. This particular type of flame configuration allows measurement and observation of very complex interactions in a spherically one-dimensional system, providing insights into the behavior of combustion phenomena that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain in multi-dimensional systems that are typically found in most 1-g fires.
The Fundamental Studies in Droplet Combustion and Flame Extinguishment in Microgravity - 2 (FLEX-2) experiments involve dispensing, deploying and igniting either a single droplet or a pair of droplets, depending on the experiment configuration, in a known and controlled gaseous environment. The ignited droplets either burn to completion or the flame extinguishes at a finite droplet radius in a quiescent ambient. During the experiments involving binary droplet arrays, two droplets are placed along a support fiber at known locations and the droplets are ignited simultaneously and the subsequent burning is recorded. In the convective flow tests, a single droplet is subjected to a known and controlled sub-buoyant flow of the quiescent atmosphere around the droplet. The flow is realized when the droplet is tethered to a substrate. In this tethered mode the droplet is placed at the intersection of two fiber cross-hairs. The cross hairs are then moved through the quiescent atmosphere surrounding the droplet.
The experiments in FLEX-2 can easily be categorized into four separate groupings; these being, the pure fuel experiments, the fuel mixture experiments, the convective flow experiments, and the binary droplet array experiments. Each of these groupings are sponsored by one or more investigators comprising the investigation team and entail anywhere from 30 to 60 separate tests using different fuels, different ambient conditions, or different droplet configurations.
Pure Fuel Experiments: The objectives of the pure fuel studies are to examine steady and unsteady liquid and gas-phase phenomena, flame extinction, soot formation mechanisms and radiative heat transfer. Decane (C10H22) and ethanol (C2H5OH) fuels were chosen because of their combustion properties and to build on results from earlier flight experiments which also used an alkane and an alcohol. In these experiments droplet burning rates, flame dimensions, radiative emissions, and soot volume fraction are measured as a function of time and initial droplet size for different ambient conditions. When flame extinction occurs, the diameter of the unburned droplet at extinction is also determined. The objectives for these experiments are as follows:
- Determine the diffusive and radiative flame extinction boundaries for ethanol and decane droplets in test atmospheres containing N2He at pressures ranging from 0.5 atm to 2.5 atm.
- Measure droplet extinction diameters for ethanol and decane fuels for validation of detailed and reduced chemical kinetic models.
- Measure soot volume fractions and soot temperatures for a range of initial conditions to determine influence on droplet burning and flame extinction.
- Measure radiant emissions from both luminous and non-luminous flames in test atmospheres containing N2 or He and at pressures ranging from 0.5 atm to 2.5 atm.
- Measure the droplet diameter (dc) , at the onset of flame contraction relative to the initial droplet diameter (d0). Correlate with theoretical predictions and provide estimates for effective liquid diffusivities.
- Measure burning rate, burning time, extinction diameter, and flame luminosity for the surrogate fuel mixtures.
- Obtain radiative and diffusive flame extinction limits in the low Reynolds number flow regime over a range of test pressures and oxygen concentrations.
- Measure droplet regression rates for sooting (decane) and non-sooting (ethanol) fuels as a function of imposed flow at low velocities over a range of ambient oxygen concentrations and pressures.
- Measure flame length, flame shape, and temperature field measurements in low flow velocities under a range of test atmospheres for use in validation of detailed theoretical models (i.e., radiative and finite-rate chemical kinetic effects).
- Determine the flammability map (diffusive and radiative extinction limits) for a binary droplet array as function of L/D0 ratio.
- Measure variations in the burning rate constant (K) as a function of L/D0 for a range of ambient conditions to verify theoretical predictions.
The FLEX-2 experiment measures soot buildup, flame heat and the burning rates of various types of fuels and fuel mixtures. Understanding how fuels burn in microgravity could improve the efficiency of fuel mixtures used for interplanetary missions by reducing cost and weight. It could also lead to improved safety measures for manned spacecraft.
Watching fuel burn in a perfect sphere provides a unique view of fire that would be impossible to recreate on Earth. Better knowledge of fire’s dynamics could lead to improved fuels for vehicles and aircrafts, including efficient, environmentally friendly mixtures of chemicals that burn well together and produce less soot. Soot results from the incomplete burning of a hydrocarbon, and it is harmful to human and environmental health. The FLEX-2 experiment provides a unique view on soot formation that would be impossible under the influence of Earth’s gravity.
Operational Requirements and Protocols
Decadal Survey Recommendations
Applied Physical Science in Space AP7
Applied Physical Science in Space AP8
^ back to top
Shaw BD, Vang CL. Oxygen Lewis number effects on reduced gravity combustion of methanol and n-heptane droplets. Combustion Science and Technology. 2015 July 16; epub: 150716065835002. DOI: 10.1080/00102202.2015.1072176.
Shaw BD. ISS droplet combustion experiments - Uncertainties in droplet sizes and burning rates. Microgravity Science and Technology. 2014 June 19; epub. DOI: 10.1007/s12217-014-9377-x.
Nayagam V, Dietrich DL, Hicks MC, Williams FA. Cool-flame extinction during n-alkane droplet combustion in microgravity . Combustion and Flame. 2015 May; 162(5): 2140-2147. DOI: 10.1016/j.combustflame.2015.01.012.
Liu YC, Trenou KN, Rah JK, Hicks MC, Avedisian CT. Effect of varying the initial diameter of n-octane and n-decane droplets over a wide range on the spherically symmetric combustion process: International Space Station and ground-based experiments. 8th U.S. National Combustion Meeting, Park City, Utah; 2013 May 19-22 10 pp.
Liu YC, Avedisian CT, Trenou KN, Rah JK. Experimental study of initial diameter effects on convection-free droplet combustion in the standard atmosphere for n-Heptane, n-Octane, and n-Decane: International Space Station and ground-based experiments. 52nd Aerospace Sciences Meeting, National Harbor, Maryland; 2014 January 13-17 25 pp.
Ground Based Results Publications
Nayagam V, Dietrich DL, Williams FA. Partial-burning regime for quasi-steady droplet combustion supported by cool flames. AIAA Journal. 2016 January 11; epub: 5 pp. DOI: 10.2514/1.J054437.
ISS Research Project - FLEX-2
How to Put Out a Fire In Space
Experiment Investigates How to Fight Fire in Space
Video Screen Shot of FLEX Ignition 1 on March 5, 2009 (GMT 64/17:21). Beginning of combustion event in cabin air. Image courtesy of NASA.
+ View Larger Image