As NASA plans for manned missions to Mars, efforts are being made to identify technologies that must be improved to make such trips feasible. Without improvements in valve technologies, propellant and commodity losses will likely make long-duration space missions infeasible. Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center have developed a self-aligning poppet for low leakage valves a seat alignment technology that eliminates the need to precisely control interfaces between poppet sealing surfaces and the valve seat seal.
Cryogenic valve leakage is often a result of misalignment and the seat seal not being perpendicular relative to the poppet. Conventional valve designs attempt to control alignment through tight tolerances across several mechanical interfaces, bolted or welded joints, machined part surfaces, etc. However, because such tight tolerances are difficult to maintain, leakage remains an issue. Traditional poppets are not self-aligning, and thus require large forces to crush the poppet and seat together to overcome misalignment and create a tight seal. In contrast, NASAs poppet valve self-aligns the poppet to the valve seat to minimize leakage.
Once the poppet and seat are precisely self-aligned, careful seat crush is provided. Owing to this unique design, the invention substantially reduces the energy required to make a tight seal reducing size, weight, and power requirements relative to traditional valves. Testing at MSFC showed that NASA's poppet reduces leakage rates of traditional aerospace cryogenic valves (~1000 SCIM) by three orders of magnitude, resulting in leakage rates suitable for long-duration space missions (~1 SCIM).
NASA's self-aligning poppet was originally targeted for aerospace cryogenic valve systems, especially for long-duration manned space missions making the invention an attractive solution for aerospace valve vendors. The invention may also be used in the petrochemical or other industries that require sealing to prevent critical or hazardous chemicals from leaking into the environment. Generally, the invention may be suitable for any application requiring low-leak and/or long duration storage of expensive or limited resource commodities (e.g., cryogenic gases, natural gas, nuclear engines, etc).