This valve is designed to create a zero-leak seal in a liquid propulsion system that is a functional replacement for the normally closed pyrovalve. Unlike pyrovalves, Nitinol is actuated by simply heating the material to a certain temperature, called the transition temperature. Like a pyrovalve, before actuation, the upstream and downstream sections are separated from one another and from the external environment by closed welded seals. Also like pyrovalves, after actuation, the propellant or pressurant gas can flow without a significant pressure drop but are still separated from the external environment by a closed welded seal.
During manufacture, a Nitinol bar is compressed to 93 percent of its original length and fitted tightly into the valve. During operation, the valve is heated until the Nitinol reaches the transition temperature of 95 °C; the Nitinol “remembers” its previous longer shape with a very large recovery force causing it to expand and break the titanium parent metal seal to allow flow. Once open, the valve forever remains open.
The first prototype valve was designed for high pressure [5,000 psi (≈34.5 MPa)] and low flow, typical requirements for pressurant gas valves in liquid propulsion systems. It is possible to modify the dimensions to make low-pressure models or high-flow models, for use downstream of the propellant tanks.
This design is simpler, lower risk, and less expensive than the pyrovalve. Although the valve must be in a thermally controlled state (kept below 80 °C) to prevent premature actuation, the pyrovalves and electrically actuated initiators have far more taxing handling requirements.
This work was done by Rebecca Gillespie of Goddard Space Flight Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Manufacturing & Prototyping category.
This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Goddard Space Flight Center, (301) 286-7351. Refer to GSC-15328-1.