Astronauts are facing existential warnings as part of their profession, but only a few are more dangerous than the possibility of a fire breaking out on a spacecraft. With that in their minds, it might sound a little strange to hear that NASA will be literally setting a fire in space this week. Researchers from the agency will soon find out the fire-act in space by trying to ignite nine different materials aboard an unmanned spaceship on its way to a fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
NASA Is Conducting Three Space-Fire Experiments
According to International Business Times, as part of the agency’s ongoing projects, NASA is conducting a series of three experiments called Spacecraft Fire Safety, also called as Saffire, and the second of these experiments just concluded aboard an empty Cygnus cargo spacecraft before the vehicle’s destructive reentry to Earth. The three-part Saffire program is investigating how fires spread in microgravity and aim to help researchers design safer spacecraft down the road.
Based on the updates from NASA's website, Cygnus was detached from the International Space Station at 8:22 a.m. EST Monday, and the ignition of the first sample of Saffire-II took place at 7:14 p.m. EST. The first four samples were Nomex, "a silicon material at different thicknesses" and the next two samples were cotton-fiberglass blends at different flow speeds. "One was at the same flow speed as Saffire-I and the other was at the flow speed planned for Saffire-III," NASA said.
NASA's Spacecraft Fire Safety (Saffire)
NASA mentioned that creating a safe environment for all the astronauts is their number one priority for all crew missions. The three-part Spacecraft Fire Safety (Saffire) experiment series was established to investigate large-scale flame growth and oxygen use in space. The experiments are ignited in a Cygnus cargo vehicle after it has completed its primary space station supply mission, and before its planned destructive reentry to Earth. Gary Ruff is the Saffire project manager.
“A spacecraft fire is one of the greatest crew safety concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community,” says Ruff. The Saffire-I experiment enclosure was approximately half a meter wide by 1 meter deep by 1.3 meters long and completed last July. Saffire-II launched inside Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft during its sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station in October 2016. Its ignition scheduled is on November 21.