Firefighting

NASA Experiment Shows How Fire Burns in Space

From Space.com and News.Yahoo.com:

Since March 2009, NASA’s Flame Extinguishment Experiment, or FLEX, has conducted more than 200 tests on the International Space Station to better understand how fire behaves in microgravity. The research could lead to improved fire suppression systems aboard future spaceships. It could also have practical benefits here on Earth, scientists said.

Fire is a different beast in space than it is on the ground. When flames burn on Earth, heated gases rise from the fire, drawing oxygen in and pushing combustion products out. In microgravity, hot gases don’t rise. So an entirely different process, called molecular diffusion, drives flame behavior.

Space flames can also burn at a lower temperature and with less oxygen than fires on Earth. As a result, the material used to put out space fires must be more concentrated, researchers said.

To study fires in space, FLEX researchers ignite a small drop of heptane or methanol fuel in a special experiment rack aboard the space station. As the droplet burns, a spherical flame engulfs it, and cameras record the whole process.

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