NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center scientists have invented a novel valve actuator where the primary actuating system and return spring system are arranged non-collinearly. In the past, valve actuators have employed pressureactuated piston and return spring systems with a linear arrangement that requires bulky return springs.

The function of the non-collinear valve actuator. An actuating force (red arrow) provided by a pneumatic piston causes a four-bar linkage arm to rotate to open a quarter-turn valve. Return force (blue arrow) to close the valve upon loss of actuating force is provided by the Belleville spring.

The need to reduce the mass of valve actuators for flight systems resulted in NASA’s non-collinear valve actuator. The actuator may be used in a variety of applications that will benefit from lighter actuating systems or a smaller system footprint. A prototype of the NASA actuator has been built to regulate the flow of a quarter-turn ball valve. NASA is seeking partners who are interested in co-development or licensure of this novel technology.

The actuator and return spring are connected non-collinearly using a rotably affixed four-bar linkage arm. The non-collinearity of the primary actuating system and return spring system of the NASA actuator allows the system to use a larger stroke while the return spring system experiences significantly less displacement. Therefore, the length and mass of the return spring may be minimized and more efficiently packaged as a smaller actuator. Belleville springs are identified as a useful return spring in the NASA system due to their low cost, small size and weight, and nearly constant force exertion over variable displacement distances.

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program offers commercial licensing agreements to ensure its pioneering research finds secondary uses that benefit the economy, create jobs, and improve quality of life. For more information about licensing, please contact Clark Darty at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 256-544-2728.