Fire In The Sky…Literally
In a record-breaking first, NASA successfully created the largest fire set intentionally in space.
The experiment was conducted aboard the uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft, a cargo vessel built by Virginia-based company Orbital ATK, which had departed from the International Space Station days earlier, after a nearly three-month stay at the orbiting lab.
NASA officials ignited a piece of cotton-fiberglass cloth 1.3 feet wide by 3.3 feet long, during the first stage of the Spacecraft Fire Experiment, named Saffire-1.
Before Saffire-1, the largest intentionally set fire in space had burned a sample just the size of an index card, NASA officials have said.
Saffire-1 was the first of three related experiments, in which the overall goal is to learn more about how fires spread in microgravity, so that future spacecraft can be designed as safely as possible.
“NASA’s objective is to reduce the risk of long-duration exploration missions, and a spacecraft fire is one of the biggest concerns for NASA and the international space exploration community.” Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, expedition 47 robotic arm operator, commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release the Cygnus spacecraft and once it was at a safe distance from the space station, ground controllers at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio and at Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia, initiated the test.
The first video from Saffire-1 showed pre-test smoke at the start of the experiment, indicating that the flow is uniform before the sample material is ignited and the second video revealed the Saffire-I sample igniting and the sample smoldering behind the flame.
Preliminary data indicates the sample burned for about 8 minutes.
Cygnus will continue to orbit Earth for up to eight days as it transmits high-resolution imagery and data from the Saffire experiment. Following complete data transmission, the Cygnus spacecraft will complete its destructive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.