Photo credit: Purdue University / Jared Pike
Engineers from Purdue University, Air Squared Inc., and Whirlpool Corporation are currently building a refrigerator that can operate in zero gravity regardless of orientation and just as well as the one found in your home. Next month, these engineers will test their innovative fridge design on Zero Gravity Corporation’s (ZERO-G) unique weightless research lab, which flies in microgravity for 20-second intervals. Read more for a video and additional information.
The canned and dried foods consumed by astronauts on current missions have a shelf life of approximately three years, but this project, funded by NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, aims to give them a nutritious supply of food that could last up to six years. The International Space Station uses cooling systems for experiments and storing biological samples rather than food, and they use far more electricity than those found here on Earth.
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When I jumped on this project, it wasn’t completely clear what the problems would be, since there haven’t been many vapor compression refrigeration experiments in microgravity in the past. In a typical fridge, gravity helps to keep liquid and vapor where they are supposed to be. Similarly, the oil lubrication system inside of a fridge’s compressor is gravity-based. When bringing new technology into space, making the entire system reliable in zero gravity is key,” said Leon Brendel, a Purdue Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering.