NASA Ignites the Largest-Ever Fire in Space

Wednesday, 15 June 2016 - 5:27PM
Space
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 - 5:27PM
NASA Ignites the Largest-Ever Fire in Space
NASA just lit a huge fire in a spacecraft, and while this may sound like someone made a colossal mistake, it was 100% intentional. The experiment was part of a study to determine how fire behaves in space, which led to the successful ignition of the largest space-bound fire of all time.

The experiment, called Saffire-I, aims to ensure the safety of astronauts working in microgravity by studying how fire spreads and proliferates in space. For the experiment, they used an expendable spacecraft from the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply cargo vehicle, which remained in orbit for 81 days while supplies were being unloaded. Then, when Cygnus departed from the ISS, it went a safe distance and a fire was lit in a sealed fiberglass box. The box is 3x3x5 feet, and burned a sample material that was 16 inches wide and 37 inches long.
Opening quote
"The first of our planned three Saffire experiments operated as designed which is a great credit to all the people at NASA who played a role in its development," Gary A. Ruff, NASA's Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project manager, said in a statement. "The success of this experiment opens the door to future large combustion experiments in the microgravity environment and directly supports the development of technologies and materials that will make deep space exploration spacecraft safer."
Closing quote

This experiment sounds absolutely terrifying, but necessary to protect astronauts in a fire situation. It was also crucial to make the fire large, as small-scale fires have already been extensively studied, but aren't nearly as applicable to real life.

Opening quote
"Understanding fire in space has been the focus of many experiments over the years," Ruff said in March. "While many small, centimeter-sized fires have been lit in space before, to really understand fire, you've gotta look at a more realistic size."
Closing quote

There will be two more Saffire experiments using Saffire-II, which will assess the limits of the flammability of oxygen, and Saffire-III, which will light another large-scale fire in microgravity. These will take place during the next resupply missions to the ISS, while NASA is also planning three further fire experiments that will begin in 2018.
Science
NASA
Space

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