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Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Tech Transfer

Low Cost Variable Conductance Heat Pipe for Balloon Payload

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Low Cost Variable Conductance Heat Pipe for Balloon Payload
While continuously increasing in complexity, the payloads of terrestrial high altitude balloons need a thermal management system to reject their waste heat and to maintain a stable temperature as the air (sink) temperature swings from as cold as -90oC to as hot as +40oC. Currently, constant conductance, copper-methanol heat pipes are utilized on balloon payloads to remove the waste heat. It would be desirable to use a Variable Conductance Heat Pipe (VCHP) instead, to allow the thermal resistance to increase under cold operating or cold survival environment conditions, keeping the instrument section warm. In spacecraft, thermal management is achieved using axially-grooved aluminum-ammonia heat pipes and VCHPs, which are relatively expensive to manufacture and validate. Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT) is proposing a low-cost VCHP based on smooth-bore, thin-wall stainless steel tubing, with either methanol or pentane as working fluids, that is capable of passively maintaining a relatively constant evaporator (payload) temperature while the sink temperature varies between -90oC and +40oC. The thin wall will be much lighter and will provide much better temperature control due to its higher thermal resistance, while the combination of working fluid and envelope material result in a heat pipe that is much less expensive to manufacture than standard grooved aluminum heat pipes. Spacecraft VCHPs normally have the gas reservoir at the end of the condenser, and maintain its temperature with electrical heaters. The proposed VCHP moves the reservoir near the evaporator, eliminating the need for electrical power to control the temperature. Preliminary calculations show that either system, methanol based or pentane based, is capable of meeting the thermal performance requirements. For both the pentane and methanol systems, the evaporator (payload) temperature varies less than 6oC while the heat sink temperature varies from 90oC to +40oC. More »

Anticipated Benefits

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

Technology Transitions

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This is a historic project that was completed before the creation of TechPort on October 1, 2012. Available data has been included. This record may contain less data than currently active projects.