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ISS Experiment Aims to Develop Air Conditioning for Off-World Habitats

A team of engineers is testing an air conditioning system in space. This experiment, called the Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE), aims to understand how these processes function in a low-gravity environment, such as the Moon or Mars.

The FBCE was launched on August 1 on a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) along with other cargo weighing 3,785 kilograms.

Engineers from Purdue University designed the FBCE to explore the effects of microgravity on condensation. While we have a solid grasp of heat and cooling systems in Earth’s gravity, this experiment will shed light on how they work in weightlessness.

Both boiling and condensation are fundamental to Earth’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, but this study aims to understand their behavior in space.

The FBCE experiment consists of two modules, with the second module joining a facility on the ISS in August 2021. These modules will remain on the ISS until 2025. By studying flow and boiling in reduced gravity, the team hopes to advance fluid physics knowledge and contribute to the design of heating and air conditioning systems for lunar or Martian habitats.

The data collected from FBCE could also have implications for spacecraft refueling in orbit during extended missions. Understanding the behavior of cryogenic liquids used as fuels in space is crucial for longer-duration flights.

This ambitious project is collaborative work of Purdue University and NASA’s Glenn Research Center which has been developing for 11 years. It represents a significant step toward enhancing our understanding of fluid dynamics and designing systems to support future space habitats and exploration.