A proposed valve for controlling the rate of flow of a fluid would include an electric-motor-driven ball-screw mechanism for adjusting the seating element of the valve to any position between fully closed and fully open. The motor would be of a type that can be electronically controlled to rotate to a specified angular position and to rotate at a specified rate, and the ball screw would enable accurate linear positioning of the seating element as a function of angular position of the motor. Hence, the proposed valve would enable fine electronic control of the rate of flow and the rate of change of flow.
The uniqueness of this valve lies in a high degree of integration of the actuation mechanism with the flow-control components into a single, relatively compact unit. A notable feature of this integration is that in addition to being a major part of the actuation mechanism, the ball screw would also be a flow-control component: the ball screw would be hollow so as to contain part of the main flow passage, and one end of the ball screw would be the main seating valve element.
The relationships among the components of the valve are best understood by reference to the figure, which presents meridional cross sections of the valve in the fully closed and fully open positions. The motor would be supported by a bracket bolted to the valve body. By means of gears or pulleys and a timing belt, motor drive would be transmitted to a sleeve that would rotate on bearings in the valve body. A ball nut inside the sleeve would be made to rotate with the sleeve by use of a key.
The ball screw would pass through and engage the ball nut. A key would prevent rotation of the ball screw in the valve body while allowing the ball screw to translate axially when driven by the ball nut. The outer surface of the ball screw would be threaded only in a mid-length region: the end regions of the outer surface of the ball screw would be polished so that they could act as dynamic sealing surfaces. The inlet end (the right end as depicted in the figure) of the ball screw would be the main seating valve element: in the fully closed position, it would be pressed against the valve seat, as depicted in the upper part of the figure.
A retainer would hold the valve seat in an inlet fitting. In addition, the retainer would be contoured to obtain a specified flow rate as a function of axial position of the ball screw.
In the fully closed position, little force would be needed to press the ball screw against the seat because the push bore area upon which the upstream pressure would act would be small. The motor would position and hold the ball screw against the seat, providing the force necessary for sealing.
To open the valve to a particular position, the motor would be commanded to rotate to a particular angular position (equivalently, a particular number of revolutions) at a particular rate of rotation within its torque limitations. Once the valve was open, fluid would flow through the inlet fitting and the chamber in the inlet housing, past the seat and its retainer, along the hollow core of the ball screw, and through the outlet housing and outlet fitting. The net force generated from fluid pressure in the open position would be small because the pressure exposed to the push bore areas at the inlet and outlet are nearly equal and the forces generated would be in opposing directions.
This work was done by Paul Patterson of Marshall Space Flight Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Mechanics/Machinery category. This invention has been patented by NASA (U.S. Patent No. 6,802,488). Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to
MSFC Commercialization Assistance Lead
Refer to MFS-31761-1.