Gas Flow Detection System

Commercial applications include flow measurement systems.

This system provides a portable means to detect gas flow through a thin-walled tube without breaking into the tubing system. The flow detection system was specifically designed to detect flow through two parallel branches of a manifold with only one inlet and outlet, and is a means for verifying a space shuttle program requirement that saves time and reduces the risk of flight hardware damage compared to the current means of requirement verification.

The prototype Purge Vent and Drain Window Cavity Conditioning System (PVD WCCS) Flow Detection System consists of a heater and a temperature-sensing thermistor attached to a piece of Velcro to be attached to each branch of a WCCS manifold for the duration of the requirement verification test. The heaters and thermistors are connected to a shielded cable and then to an electronics enclosure, which contains the power supplies, relays, and circuit board to provide power, signal condi-tioning, and control. The electronics enclosure is then connected to a commercial data acquisition box to provide analog to digital conversion as well as digital control. This data acquisition box is then connected to a commercial laptop running a custom application created using National Instruments’ LabVIEW.

The operation of the PVD WCCS Flow Detection System consists of first attaching a heater/thermistor assembly to each of the two branches of one manifold while there is no flow through the manifold. Next, the software application running on the laptop is used to turn on the heaters and to monitor the manifold branch temperatures. When the system has reached thermal equilibrium, the software application’s graphical user interface (GUI) will indicate that the branch temperatures are stable. The operator can then physically open the flow control valve to initiate the test flow of gaseous nitrogen (GN2) through the manifold. Next, the software user interface will be monitored for stable temperature indications when the system is again at thermal equilibrium with the test flow of GN2. The temperature drop of each branch from its “no flow” stable temperature peak to its stable “with flow” temperature will allow the operator to determine whether a minimum level of flow exists.

An alternative operation has the operator turning on the software only long enough to record the ambient temperature of the tubing before turning on the heaters and initiating GN2 flow. The stable temperature of the heated tubing with GN2 flow is then compared with the ambient tubing temperature to determine if flow is present in each branch. To help quantify the level of flow in the manifolds, each branch will be bench calibrated to establish its thermal properties using the flow detection system and different flow rates. These calibration values can then be incorporated into the software application to provide more detailed flow rate information.

This work was done by Thomas Moss, Curtis Ihlefeld, and Barry Slack of Kennedy Space Center. For further information, contact the Kennedy Applied Physics Laboratory at (321) 867-7513. KSC-13174

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