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Detectors collect data for NASA droplet combustion experiments

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2012
Ashley N. Paddock, ashley.paddock@photonics.com

DEXTER, Mich. – A new and more effective radiometric diagnostic device will enable the International Space Station (ISS) to collect data for droplet combustion experiments, thanks to two small infrared thermopile sensor detectors.

Along with the 2.9 tons of mission-critical supplies of food, fuel and other necessities sent to the ISS in early November 2011, Dexter Research Center sent its ST-60 and 2M precision noncontact IR sensors for NASA’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR), which is used to perform combustion experiments in microgravity.

The CIR can be reconfigured easily in orbit to accommodate a variety of combustion experiments. It includes an optics bench, a combustion chamber, a fuel and oxidizer management system, environmental management systems, and interfaces for science diagnostics and experiment-specific equipment. Five different cameras are available for diagnostic.


An instrument used for microdroplet combustion in microgravity. It includes two each of the ST150 and 2M thermopile detector models from Dexter Research.


The custom sensors help the instrument to characterize droplets of “fuel” to develop a model of droplet combustion in microgravity, according to Victor Banta, technical sales and applications engineer at Dexter Research.

Banta explained that the research is purely scientific at this stage. The main goal of the experiment is to collect data using the sensors to develop a model of how combustion occurs in microgravity. The findings could later be used by others to develop models for whatever they dream up, he said.

The data gathered from the experiment could be used to develop a model for a rocket propulsion system or for fire suppression, Banta noted. For instance, if there were a fire on the space station, scientists would be able to study how it burns and how to control it. But for now, Banta said NASA is using the sensors solely to develop the combustion microgravity model.


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