In an attempt to better understand how fire behaves in microgravity to ensure better safety for astronauts, NASA scientists will soon ignite nine different materials aboard an unmanned spaceship on its way to a fiery re-entry to Earth's atmosphere, NASA said Monday.
While NASA has conducted studies aboard the space shuttle and International Space Station (ISS), risks to the crew have forced these experiments to be limited in size and scope.
Yet, in their second Spacecraft Fire Safety experiment, or Saffire-II, NASA scientists will remotely ignite samples aboard US aerospace major Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft that has departed the space station on Monday, November 21.
"After Cygnus departs the station, and before its destructive reentry to Earth, mission controllers on the ground will remotely ignite the samples," NASA said.
"The OA-5 Cygnus spacecraft successfully departed the International Space Station at 8:22 a.m. ET on November 21 (6.52 p.m. Monday, India time) 2016," Orbital ATK said in a statement.
This is the second experiment in the Spacecraft Fire Safety (Saffire) series that builds on the data captured during Saffire-I and expands the test portfolio with new materials.
"The spacecraft delivered essential supplies to astronauts on board, and will now release several NanoRacks Cubesats and conduct the Saffire-II experiment for NASA's Glenn Research Center. Cygnus is scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere on Sunday, November 27," it added.
Saffire-II launched inside Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft during its sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the space station in October 2016.
The nine samples in the experiment kit include a cotton-fiberglass blend, Nomex, and the same acrylic glass that is used for spacecraft windows.
Understanding how fire spreads in a microgravity environment is critical to the safety of astronauts who live and work in space, according to NASA.
The three-part Saffire experiment series was established to investigate large-scale flame growth and oxygen use in space.
The experiments are ignited in a Cygnus cargo vehicle after it has completed its primary space station supply mission, and before its planned destructive reentry to Earth.
(With agency inputs)