The Flame Extinguishment - 2 (FLEX-2) experiment is the second experiment on the ISS which uses small droplets of fuel to study the special burning characteristics of fire in space. The FLEX-2 experiment studies the rate and manner in which fuel is burned, the conditions that are necessary for soot to form, and the way in which a mixture of fuels evaporate before burning. The results from these experiments will give scientists a better understanding how fires behave in space and will provide important information that will be useful in increasing the fuel efficiency of engines using liquid fuels.Principal Investigator(s)
ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States
Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)Sponsoring Organization
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)ISS Expedition Duration:
October 2009 - March 2014
21/22,23/24,25/26,27/28,29/30,31/32,33/34,35/36,37/38Previous ISS Missions
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 spherically symmetric combustion of a liquid fuel droplet in a quiescent oxidizing atmosphere is a classical problem in combustion research. The advantage of the spherical symmetry is that only one spatial dimension enters the description of the combustion process. This greatly simplifies the mathematics required for modeling combustion processes. Microgravity experiments provide the opportunity to achieve this spherical symmetry, a fact which NASA has used to its advantage in fundamental investigations for a number of years. The Fundamental Studies in Droplet Combustion and Flame Extinguishment in Microgravity (FLEX-2) investigation touches on a number of far-reaching combustion phenomena that can be uniquely addressed through the idealized geometry of a droplet burning in microgravity.
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:
FLEX-2 results will help in fire safety designs for future space exploration vehicles.Earth Applications
FLEX-2 helps in the understanding to deal better with combustion generated pollution, and address fire hazards associated with using liquid combustibles on Earth.
The FLEX-2 investigation, as with its precursor the MDCA-FLEX, will be setup in the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR). The CIR chamber will be filled with the appropriate mixture of gases comprising different blends of O2/N2/He depending on the specifications of each test point. Since each test uses small volumes of fuel, the droplet test configuration can support a large number of test points and a total of 250 tests have been scheduled. If sufficient resources remain, after the first suite of tests is performed, there is the possibility of performing additional test points. Fuel is to be dispensed as either free-floating single droplets or as tethered droplets placed on an 80 micron SiC fiber in order to control position and spacing between droplet pairs. All activities will be captured with a “near real-time” download from the MDCA color camera.Operational Protocols
Following setup and initialization of the FLEX-2 investigation, the chamber is filled with the appropriate atmosphere, which depending on the test point, varies in pressure from 0.5 atm to 3.0 atm, varies in oxygen concentration from 0.1 to 0.4 mole fraction, and varies in suppressant concentration from 0 to 0.7 mole fraction. A settling time of approximately 2 minutes elapses prior to initiating the test in order to ensure that the temperature and pressure of the chamber gases have stabilized. This settling time is followed by the dispensing of a predetermined amount of fuel (based on the target droplet size) onto the support fiber. When sufficient fuel has been dispensed the dispensing needles are retracted and a dwell period of at least 10 seconds is allowed for the droplet internal fluid motion induced by deployment to subside. This is then be followed by initiating power to the igniter for a selectable amount of time ranging from 1 second to 5 seconds after which the igniter will be retracted from the field of view. If the flow field is to be generated by translating the droplet then droplet motion would commence at the same time that the igniter is retracted. A near real-time download of the color camera video is required in order to verify successful droplet deployment, ignition, and overall progress of the experiment. Pressure and temperature data of the chamber environment is also required in near real time. At least 2 minutes must be allowed after filling chamber to ensure that the chamber gas temperature and pressure has stabilized. For droplet dwell time at least 10 seconds should be allowed to ensure all droplet motion imparted by droplet deployment and needle retraction has subsided. Chamber purity for fuel vapor mole fraction of less than 0.005 in the atmosphere for tests without carbon dioxide and less than 0.02 mole fraction (each species) of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other products.