Miniature, Lightweight, One-Time-Opening Valve
- Created on Tuesday, 01 April 2008
A small solder plug is melted to release a pressurized gas.
The figure depicts the main parts of a prototype miniature, lightweight, one-time- opening valve. Like some other miniature one-time-opening valves reported in previous issues of NASA Tech Briefs, this valve is opened by melting a material that blocks the flow path. This valve is designed to remain closed at some temperature between room temperature and cryogenic temperature until the time of opening.
The prototype valve includes a 1/8-in. (3-mm) aluminum tube, one end of which is plugged with a solder comprising about 37 weight percent of lead and 63 weight percent of tin. The tube and the solder both have a coefficient of thermal expansion of 23 micron/m-K at room temperature. Before plugging, the interior surface of the plug end of the tube is cleaned with a commercial flux paste developed specifically for preparing aluminum for bonding with lead/tin solder. The solder is then melted into the cleaned end of the tube, forming the plug.
In a test, the plugged tube was pressurized to 1,000 psi (6.9 MPa) with helium and leak-tested. It was then cooled to a temperature of 77 K (about –196 °C) and again leak-tested at the same pressure. Finally, at a lower pressure, the plugged end of the tube was heated to about 200 °C (the melting temperature of the solder is 183°C), causing the solder plug to be ejected (see figure). It has been estimated that in a subsequent version of the valve, the plug could be melted by electrical heating, using a nichrome wire having a mass of only 10 g.
This work was done by Jack Jones, Juinn Jenq Wu, and Robert Leland of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
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