Tech Briefs

A report discusses a modified design of a Joule-Thomson (JT) refrigerator under development to be incorporated into scientific instrumentation aboard a spacecraft.In most other JT refrigerators (including common household refrigerators), the temperature of the evaporator (the cold stage) is kept within a desired narrow range by turning a compressor on and off as needed. This mode of control is inadequate for the present refrigerator because a JT-refrigerator compressor performs poorly when the flow from its evaporator varies substantially, and this refrigerator is required to maintain adequate cooling power. The proposed design modifications include changes in the arrangement of heat exchangers, addition of a clamp that would afford a controlled heat leak from a warmer to a cooler stage to smooth out temperature fluctuations in the cooler stage, and incorporation of a proportional + integral + derivative (PID) control system that would regulate the heat leak to maintain the temperature of the evaporator within a desired narrow range while keeping the amount of liquid in the evaporator within a very narrow range in order to optimize the performance of the compressor. Novelty lies in combining the temperature- and cooling-power-regulating controls into a single control system.

This work was done by James Borders, David Pearson, and Mauro Prina of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Machinery/Automation category.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Improving Control in a Joule-Thomson Refrigerator (reference NPO-40225) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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