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ESA's Use of CFD on the ISS
Posted Wed November 21, 2001 @11:47AM
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Application The European Space Agency (ESA) is using CFD in the design of enviromental control facilites in the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and to predict gas impingement forces in the sensitive Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS).

The ATV is used for delivering equipment and consumables to the ISS and for orbital re-boosting when the ISS has lost altitude due to atmospheric friction. The Integrated Cargo Carrier (ICC) module, located at the front of the ATV, carries dry cargo which is placed in up to 8 racks mounted in the cylindrical portion of the ICC.

The ICC does not have an advanced enviromental control system, but does have a cabin fan designed to guarantee good ventilation and to ensure an adequate air distribution for crew comfort. Another primary goal of the fan is to avoid any stagnant flow regions in which toxic gases could accumulate and pose a suffocation threat to the astronauts. In addition, the air speed should be always lower than 0.25 m/s in the crew cabin, whereas the air temperature should be less than 28C, but more than the minimum dew temperature of 16C. Also, the 'touch temperatures' of surfaces exposed to the crew should not exceed 45C.

Rather than build an expensive experimental apparatus to test the flow field in the ICC, ESA turned to CFDRC for CFD software which could be used to predict the flow field within the ICC.


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The ESA engineers used a trace gas, such as CO2, to determine if the entire ICC cabin was being washed out by the cabin fan. If there were "dead air" regions in the cabin, they would have shown up as regions of finite concentration of the gas after the cabin flow field had reached steady state. In addition, the temperature field was determined including the heat load from numerous electronics boxes and the metabolic heat from two astronauts. This also allowed the engineers to predict the "touch temperature" of hot surfaces, which depend strongly on the convective, conductive and radiative cooling.

The European Columbus laboratory will be used for conducting experiments in a microgravity environment. Such experiments, however, are sensitive to vibration. Sources of vibration on the ISS include the acceleration and deceleration of moving parts (pumps, fans, motors...), impact forces (opening or closing of valves), or they can be of fluid-dynamic origin.

One source of fluid-dynamic vibration is the venting of gases from Columbus' payload chamber. The exhaust outlet is designed to produce minimal thrust, however, the high velocity plume can impact other modules and the resulting forces are not easy to predict.

CFD can be used to calculate the exhaust plume and the resulting impingement forces. Furthermore, the CFD model can be used to evaluate different venting scenarios with the control valves being opened in a controlled way to minimize any disturbances.

CFD has been shown to be a valuable tool in the design of the ISS. Furthermore, the versatility of CFD allows it to be coupled with other analysis methods allowing for a more complete design.

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