An optical gas-detection sensor safely monitors pressurized systems (such as cryogenic tanks) and distribution systems for leaks. This sensor system is a fiber-coupled, solid optical body interferometer that allows for the miniaturized sensing element of the device to be placed in the smallest of recesses, and measures a wide range of gas species and densities (leaks). The deflection of the fringe pattern is detected and recorded to yield the time-varying gas density in the gap. This technology can be used by manufacturers or storage facilities with toxic, hazardous, or explosive gases.
The approach is to monitor the change in the index of refraction associated with low-level gas leaks into a vacuum environment. The completion of this work will provide NASA with an enabling capability to detect gas system leaks in space, and to verify that pressurized systems are in a safe (i.e. non-leaking) condition during manned docking and transit operations.
By recording the output of the sensor, a time-history of the leak can be constructed to indicate its severity. Project risk is mitigated by having several interferometric geometries and detection techniques available, each potentially leveraging hardware and lessons learned to enhance detectability.