May 13, 2020

NASA Will Intentionally Ignite A Fire Inside Its Spacecraft... for Science

NASA's commercial partner Orbital ATK will launch its Cygnus cargo spacecraft, filled with supplies and science experiments, into lower Earth orbit on Tuesday. There, the spacecraft will dock with the ISS and replenish the crew with food, water, and other important inventory. But the spacecraft's mission won't be quite done once the astronauts unload all the supplies on board Cygnus. The capsule will be loaded up with trash from the station and separate from the ISS — and then NASA will light the capsule on fire.
It's all part of a NASA experiment called Saffire. It involves igniting a flammable material inside the Cygnus spacecraft, to better understand how potential fires can spread across a vehicle in space. Though NASA has been flying spacecraft for decades, the agency has very little knowledge of how fires behave in microgravity, the space agency claims. NASA has purposefully set fire to materials in space for research, but those samples have all been fairly small — less than four inches in length and width. This blaze aboard the Cygnus will be much larger; a material more than three feet long and one foot wide (1 meter long and .4 meters wide) will go up in flames inside the capsule.

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