NASA seeks to license the Adaptive Thermal Management System (ATMS) for use in commercial applications. Developed at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the ATMS provides a way to regulate heat transfer and enable thermal management between two opposing surfaces in either direction. The system has the capability to adapt to provide conductive or insulative functionality depending on environmental conditions or applied stimuli. The ATMS can be designed for use in manufacturing, storage vessels, fluid transfer, aerospace and building architectures, and many other applications to reduce unwanted heat transfer, lower energy usage, or maintain environments at a specific temperature. The ATMS is part of NASA’s technology transfer program, which seeks to promote the commercial use of NASA-developed technologies.
Efficient thermal management has long been an issue in both commercial systems and in the extreme environments of space. In space exploration and habitation, significant challenges are experienced in providing fluid support systems such as cryogenic storage, life support, and habitats; or thermal control systems for launch vehicle protection, environmental heat management, or electronic instruments. Furthermore, these systems operate in dynamic, transient modes, and often under extremes of temperature or pressure. The current technical requirements associated with the thermal management of these systems result in control issues as well as significant lifecycle costs.
To combat these issues, the ATMS was developed to help provide the capability for tanks, structural walls, or composite substrate materials to switch functionality (conductive or insulative) depending on environmental conditions or applied stimuli. As a result, the ATMS provides the ability to adapt between both heating and cooling modes within a single system. For example, shape memory alloy (SMA) elements are used to actuate at certain design temperatures to create a conductive bridge between two metal plates, allowing broad-area heat rejection from the hotter surface. Upon cooling to the lower design set-point, the SMA elements return to their original shapes, thereby breaking the conductive path and returning the system to its overall insulative state.
The system can be applied to broad planar areas for controlling heat transfer between two materials, and it enables thermal conduction to provide heat dissipation to adjacent spaces. It’s a passive system with no external activation required; the system automatically reacts to environmental conditions. It can be embedded into new designs or added to existing systems, and the flexibility in architectural design allows for operation in a broad temperature range (from –150 °C to 180 °C).
This technology has the potential to be applied to any system that would have the need for a self-regulating thermal management system that allows for heat transfer from one side to another. That could include manufacturing process equipment, storage vessels, architecture/housing and habitats, commercial building envelopes, refrigerated transport, aerospace launch vehicles and tank walls, power plant vessels, medical imaging equipment, airframes and aircraft integrated structures, and computers and data server farms.