Fuel Slosh Research in Microgravity
Spring 2010 marks the fifth year Embry-Riddle’s COE has launched students to do research in a zero-gravity environment under the leadership of Dr. Sathya Gangadharan. During this time, five students have participated in either the NASA Undergraduate or Graduate Student Research Program at Kennedy Space Center as a result of their research in the field of fuel slosh. The research has resulted in four theses and multiple publications.
The research focus has evolved throughout the process. Project NESST and Project FuSSION focused on off-axis cylindrical fuel tanks, which limited the effect of the research since these are not commonly used. Using this feedback, Project DIEMOS focused on the most common fuel system, a spherical propellant tank with a diaphragm. Between Project DIEMOS and Project FuSSION, the team developed knowledge on the first two main types of fuel slosh (free surface and bulk motion). Project HORIZONS is building on the knowledge of previous research by testing the same type of tank that was tested in Project DIEMOS, but removing the diaphragm in order to test sub-surface inertial waves slosh. It has been selected in part because it is currently one of the least tested slosh types, and partly because, while common modern knowledge has suggested this type of slosh is unable to effect spinning space systems, recent testing has shown this could not be the case. This research was specifically requested of the team by the Launch Services Program at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
The testing apparatus itself has evolved through the years of research. Project FuSSION used feedback from Project NESST to better design the experimental apparatus for successful test. A larger enclosure was then added to this design for Project DIEMOS, in order to allow the spacecraft being tested to float for longer without collision with one of the walls. For Project HORIZONS, this design is being even further optimized with a goal of fuel autonomy to allow an easier testing procedure in zero gravity.
While many students join the project for the opportunity to fly in zero gravity, they all gain invaluable insights into the process of designing and performing long-term research experiments. This type of evolving research and experimentation, using cutting-edge technology to develop ways to investigate newly discovered problems, is a core concept of engineering taught both in the classroom and through engaging hands-on projects throughout the College of Engineering.
Dr. Sathya Gangadharan is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Embry-Riddle, Daytona Beach campus.