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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Fighting Fire in Space

Findings could lead to new, cleaner fuels.

Improving fire-fighting techniques in space and getting a better understanding of fuel combustion here on earth are the focus of experiments on the International Space Station, led by a UC San Diego professor.

Forman Williams, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, at the Jacobs School of Engineering, has been working on fire research and fire safety with NASA since the 1970s. He ran his first round of experiments on the Space Station from March 2009 to December 2011. A second round kicked off in January and is set to last a year or more.

All the experiments take place in a chamber located in the Destiny module of the Space Station but they are run by remote control from NASA’s John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Williams and colleagues at other universities then analyze the results at their home institutions.

The chamber on Destiny is part of a piece of equipment called the Combustion Integrated Rack, which is crammed with sensors and equipped with video cameras. It is also equipped with a device called the Multiuser Droplet Combustion Apparatus that can generate and ignite droplets from different fuels in different atmospheric conditions.

Williams is now working on a new series of experiments, called FLEX-2, which aim to recreate conditions that are closer to what actually happens in a combustion engine. Findings could lead to new designs for cleaner fuels, among other applications.

—Ioana Patringenaru