NASA is once again pushing the envelope with plans to test the effects of a large fire in space by setting off a blaze inside an orbiting unmanned spacecraft because, well, why not?
The space arson is apparently crucial for the safety of current and future space missions with the goal to measure the size of flames, how quickly they spread, the heat output and how much gas is emitted.
While NASA has already set off controlled fires in space, they’ve never tested how large flames will react inside a space capsule in space. For this experiment, the Cygnus capsule is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop an Atlas 5 Rocket on its final mission March 23.
It will determine how much fire assistance is needed in the ultra-light material used in spacecrafts and astronaut’s gear and will also help NASA build better fire detection and suppression systems, and study how microgravity and limited amounts of oxygen affect the size of flames.
“Understanding fire in space has been the focus on many experiments over the years,” Glen Ruff from the US space agency’s Glenn Research Centre said. Many “small, centimetre-sized fires have been lit in space before, [but] to really understand fire, you’ve got to look at a more realistic size.”
The fire will be triggered from ground control and is expected to last 20 minutes, in real time with cameras filming the material as it burns. A few days after the blaze, the Cygnus capsule is expected to plunge back towards Earth and disintegrate.