NASA Spinoff

Do-It-Yourself Additives Recharge Auto Air Conditioning

Even though it drops to -279 °F at night and dips to -400 °F inside its deepest craters, the Moon can reach a scorching 260 °F during the day. The range of temperatures is extreme—in part because there is no substantial atmosphere on the Moon to insulate against the heat or cold. What the Moon does have are small amounts of gasses above its surface, sometimes called a lunar atmosphere or exosphere, that consist mostly of hydrogen and helium, along with some neon and argon.

On Earth, traces of an atmosphere extend as high as 370 miles above the surface. Made of 78-percent nitrogen and 21-percent oxygen, 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere consists of argon and other gasses—some of which help to trap heat from the Sun and create a greenhouse effect. Without this effect, Earth would probably be too cold for life to exist. Another helpful feature of the Earth’s atmosphere exists about 30 miles above the surface, where ultraviolet light from the Sun strikes oxygen molecules to create a gas called ozone. This ozone blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth.

While the Earth’s atmosphere protects and defends against extreme temperatures like those on the Moon, Earth’s heating and air conditioning systems create an even more comfortable atmosphere indoors. In planning for a return mission to the Moon, NASA aimed to improve the thermal control systems that keep astronauts comfortable and cool while inside a spacecraft.

Partnership

In the late 1990s, Goddard Space Flight Center awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to Mainstream Engineering Corporation, of Rockledge, Florida, to develop a chemical/mechanical heat pump as part of the spacecraft’s thermal control system. Designed to transfer heat from one location to another, a heat pump provides cooling by moving heat out of one area and into another. While working on the heat pump design at Goddard, Mainstream Engineering came up with a unique liquid additive called QwikBoost to enhance the performance of the advanced heat pump design.

Previously featured in Spinoff 1999, QwikBoost circulates through a system like a lubricant, working to boost the available cooling capacity. This increases the performance of the system and results in faster heat transfer (cooling) and consumption of less operating energy.

After Mainstream Engineering patented the QwikBoost technology developed with NASA, it started manufacturing and selling the additive to improve the operating efficiency and economy of refrigeration systems, air conditioners, and heat pumps. NASA used QwikBoost to develop more efficient, smaller, and lighter cooling systems, as well as in air conditioning and refrigeration systems at NASA facilities, and in air conditioning systems in NASA’s vehicle fleet.