Photo courtesy of NASA. The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft sits on top of an Atlantis V rocket
ready for launch to the International Space Station, where it will drop off supplies before being
used for large-scale fire testing in space.
If you've seen the movie The Martian, you have an idea why fire in space is a dangerous, dangerous thing.
That's fiction, of course, but in real life NASA is concerned about what can happen if a fire breaks out on a manned spacecraft. To learn more about how fire reacts in low-gravity environments, the government agency is launching its first-ever series of large-scale fire tests in space.
According to NASA, these will be largest man-made fires ever in space. The agency has previously conducted small-scale tests at the International Space Station (ISS), but it has never examined how large flames react in space.
The experiments will take place aboard unmanned Orbital ATK Cygnus capsules, which are used to transport supplies to the space station. The first mission, called Sapphire l, for "spacecraft fire experiment," launched March 22 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the fire test is scheduled for June 2, after supplies are dropped off. Safire II and III are tentatively scheduled for late this summer and late December, respectively.
The goal of all three experiments, according to NASA, is to better understand how rapidly a large fire grows in space, which fabrics and materials will catch fire, and how those fabrics and materials burn. A better understanding of how fire behaves in space will help NASA develop better materials, technologies, and procedures to reduce crew risk and improve space flight safety.
Previous small-scale tests have shown that some materials are more likely to burn in space.
For the full story, check out the May/June issue of NFPA Journal.