An acousto-optic cryogenic flow sensor (CFS) determines mass flow of cryogens for spacecraft propellant management. The CFS operates unobtrusively in a high-pressure, high-flowrate cryogenic environment to provide measurements for fluid quality as well as mass flow rate. Experimental hardware uses an optical “plane-of-light” (POL) to detect the onset of two-phase flow, and the presence of particles in the flow of water.

Acousto-optic devices are used in laser equipment for electronic control of the intensity and position of the laser beam. Acousto-optic interaction occurs in all optical media when an acoustic wave and a laser beam are present. When an acoustic wave is launched into the optical medium, it generates a refractive index wave that behaves like a sinusoidal grating. An incident laser beam passing through this grating will diffract the laser beam into several orders. Its angular position is linearly proportional to the acoustic frequency, so that the higher the frequency, the larger the diffracted angle.

If the acoustic wave is traveling in a moving fluid, the fluid velocity will affect the frequency of the traveling wave, relative to a stationary sensor. This frequency shift changes the angle of diffraction, hence, fluid velocity can be determined from the diffraction angle. The CFS acoustic Bragg grating data test indicates that it is capable of accurately determining flow from 0 to 10 meters per second. The same sensor can be used in flow velocities exceeding 100 m/s. The POL module has successfully determined the onset of two-phase flow, and can distinguish vapor bubbles from debris.

This work was done by John Justak of Advanced Technologies Group, Inc. for Marshall Space Flight Center. For more information, contact Sammy Nabors, MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to MFS-32730-1.

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