Combustion Processes

Space exploration is enabled by and enables extended combustion experiments in reduced gravity that have longer durations and larger scales and that include current and future fuels (e.g., biofuels and synthetic fuels), as well as practical aerospace materials, that NASA may consider for future missions. Previous microgravity experiments made new discoveries and raised new questions. There are now new fuels and new space exploration missions. In addition, most of the solid materials tested to date in reduced-gravity combustion experiments have been simple materials in the form of combustion samples. Future experiments should include more complex materials and shapes. Results from such experiments, along with a deeper understanding of fundamental combustion phenomena, will contribute to technologies for improving fire safety in space and terrestrial applications. By 2020, droplet-phase, gas-phase, and solid combustion experiments on the ISS could be completed, and the preparation and planning for larger-scale, longer-duration experiments could begin. Beyond 2020, larger-scale, longer-duration experiments would be conducted.

Research in this area should support the development of materials standards related to ignition, flame spread, and toxic or corrosive gas generation in various environments and gravitational force fields, as described in Chapter 10 (see Table 10.3).

Numerical Simulation of Combustion

Numerical models are powerful and necessary tools for studying combustion processes in reduced gravity, including issues related to fire safety in spacecraft. The development and validation of detailed single and multiphase numerical combustion models are needed to relate reduced-gravity and Earth-gravity tests. Because of limited access to space for experimentation, numerical simulations are necessary enabling tools for the prediction, design, and interpretation of data from experiments and missions. By 2020, selected numerical models could be validated with reduced-gravity experiments. Beyond 2020, these models could be integrated with experiments and design.

Research in this area should support the development of the following critical technologies, described in Chapter 10 (see Table 10.3): materials standards related to ignition, flame spread, and toxic or corrosive gas generation in various environments and g fields; particle detectors; and fire suppression systems.


Materials science and engineering help shape elements of the modern world, from integrated circuits, to single-crystal turbine blades, to ceramic fuel cells. The study of seemingly disparate materials is unified by the paradigm that the synthesis and processing of a material affect its structure, which in turn governs its properties. Thus the design of materials for terrestrial or space applications, including in situ resource utilization, requires a deep understanding of the relationship between the properties of a material and its structure and of the manner in which synthesis and processing affect its structure. Materials research in reduced gravity has the potential to explore processes that govern materials production on the ground and produce new materials for use during spaceflight and the exploration of planetary bodies. These processes and materials may be critical for applications related to space exploration, and they may lead to new materials for various applications in space and on Earth.

Research in Support of NASA’s Exploration Missions

Materials science and engineering are central to NASA’s exploration mission, both crewed and uncrewed. This section focuses on gravity-related research issues in the development of new materials that (1) are most critical to meeting NASA’s unique requirements and (2) would not be developed by other governmental agencies. Areas of particular interest include materials synthesis and processing, advanced materials, ISRU, and fundamental materials research. Enabling synthesis and processing techniques related to these topics are also of great importance. For


Table 13.3 in this report describes the potential for all recommended research to impact space exploration and to meet terrestrial needs.

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