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Evaluation of Spacecraft Smoke Detector Performance in the Low-Gravity Environment



Jiann C. Yang, Thomas G. Cleary, Marit Meyer, D L. Urban, George W. Mulholland, Victoria Bryg, Zeng-guang Yuan, Gary A. Ruff


In the interest of fire prevention, most materials used in the interior construction of manned spacecraft are non- flammable, however, they do produce smoke when overheated. Spacecraft smoke detectors will ideally detect smoke generated by oxidative pyrolysis (such as smoldering) in order to maximize the crew response time before a larger flaming fire develops. An experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) was performed to characterize smoke particles generated from the oxidative pyrolysis of five common spacecraft materials. The following parameters were controlled: heating temperature, air flow past the samples and duration of aging. Two different spacecraft smoke detectors were included in the instrumentation and their performance with different smoke types has been evaluated. Additional equipment in the experiment included a thermal precipitator to sample particles for microscopic analysis upon return to Earth, and three commercial-off-the-shelf real-time instruments to measure particle mass and number concentration, and an ionization detector calibrated to estimate the first moment of the size distribution. Results from the ISS experiment show that smoke particles vary in morphology and average diameter, however, they are not significantly different from smoke particles generated in equivalent experiments performed in normal gravity. The two spacecraft smoke detectors did not successfully detect every type of smoke, which demonstrates that the next generation of spacecraft fire detectors must be improved and tested against smoke from relevant space materials.
Fire Safety Journal


Fire Detector, Microgravity, Smoke


Yang, J. , Cleary, T. , Meyer, M. , Urban, D. , Mulholland, G. , Bryg, V. , Yuan, Z. and Ruff, G. (2018), Evaluation of Spacecraft Smoke Detector Performance in the Low-Gravity Environment, Fire Safety Journal, [online], (Accessed April 24, 2024)
Created April 24, 2018, Updated August 21, 2020