Tech Briefs

A Magnetically Coupled Cryogenic Pump

A proof of concept pump is successful.

Historically, cryogenic pumps used for propellant loading at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and other NASA Centers have a bellows mechanical seal and oil bath ball bearings, both of which can be problematic and require high maintenance. Because of the extremely low temperatures, the mechanical seals are made of special materials and design, have wearing surfaces, are subject to improper installation, and commonly are a potential leak path. The ball bearings are non-precision bearings [ABEC-1 (Annular Bearing Engineering Council)] and are lubricated using LOX compatible oil. This oil is compatible with the propellant to prevent explosions, but does not have good lubricating properties. Due to the poor lubricity, it has been a goal of the KSC cryogenics community for the last 15 years to develop a magnetically coupled pump, which would eliminate these two potential issues. A number of projects have been attempted, but none of the pumps was a success.

An off-the-shelf magnetically coupled pump (typically used with corrosive fluids) was procured that has been used for hypergolic service at KSC. The KSC Cryogenics Test Lab (CTL) operated the pump in cryogenic LN2 “as received” to determine a baseline for modifications required. The pump bushing, bearings, and thrust rings failed, and the pump would not flow liquid (this is a typical failure mode that was experienced in the previous attempts).

Using the knowledge gained over the years designing and building cryogenic pumps, the CTL determined alternative materials that would be suitable for use under the pump design conditions. The CTL procured alternative materials for the bearings (bronze, aluminum bronze, and glass filled PTFE) and machined new bearing bushings, sleeves, and thrust rings. The designed clearances among the bushings, sleeves, thrust rings, case, and case cover were altered once again using experience gained from previous cryogenic pump rebuilds and designs. The alternative material parts were assembled into the pump, and the pump was successfully operated meeting all expected operating parameters.

Unique pump sub-assembly parts were designed and manufactured by the CTL using specialized materials determined to be superior for cryogenic thermal applications under the pump design conditions. This work is a proof-of-concept/proof-of-operation of the pump only. Other known internal design modifications to the pump should be accomplished for the long-term use of the pump. An upscaled version of this pump, which is under development and testing at the CTL, can be used either for current or future vehicle loading or for vehicle replenishment. Scaling of this pump can be easily accomplished.

This work was done by Walter Hatfield and Kevin Jumper of John F. Kennedy Space Center. KSC-13434