A new experiment that arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) last week could lead to lighter and more efficient spacecraft, its developers have claimed.

Designed by engineers from Purdue University in Indiana, the Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE) aims to improve understanding of heat transfer in microgravity.

The experiment, which reached the ISS last Thursday (12 August), addresses two key issues for spacecraft engineers – reducing weight and managing extreme temperatures.

“Vehicles like the space shuttle used single-phase cooling, which circulates liquid through tubes to remove heat from the avionics,” said principal investigator Issam Mudawar. “But these systems are complex and add a lot of weight to the spacecraft. What we’ve been exploring is using two-phase flow, which is more efficient and reduces the size of the cooling hardware.”

Two-phase flow refers to the two phases of matter – liquid and vapour – that happen during boiling and condensation. In a process known as flow boiling, a specialised liquid flows by a heat source, which causes the liquid to boil and create bubbles. Those bubbles of vapour flow past the heat source, reject the heat, and then condense back into liquid, which recirculates constantly in a closed system.

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