An apparatus has been developed to implement an improved method of testing flat-plate specimens of thermal-insulation materials for cryogenic application. The method includes testing under realistic use conditions that could include vacuum and mechanical loading at a pressure up to 70 psi (≈0.48 MPa). The apparatus can accommodate a rigid or flexible specimen having thickness up to 1.25 in. (≈3.2 cm) and diameters between 6 and 10 in. (about 15.2 and 25.4 cm, respectively). Typical test conditions include boundary temperatures between 77 K and 373 K and vacuum/interstitial gas filling at a pressure between 10-6 torr (≈1.3×10-4 Pa) and 760 torr (atmospheric pressure ≈0.1 MPa). The interstitial gas could be N2, He, CO2, or any other suitable gas to which the insulation is expected to be exposed in use. Relative to prior apparatuses and testing methods, this apparatus and the testing method that it implements offer advantages of relative simplicity and ease of use.

A Specimen Is Sandwiched between a cold mass tank containing liquid nitrogen and a heated copper plate. The apparent thermal conductivity of the specimen is determined from the liquid-nitrogen boil-off rate and the temperatures of the top and bottom specimen surfaces.

The basic principle of operation of the apparatus is that of boil-off calorimetry, using liquid nitrogen or any other suitable liquid that boils at a desired temperature below ambient temperature. Comparative rates of flow of heat through the thicknesses of the specimens (heat-leak rates) and apparent thermal-conductivity values are obtained from tests of specimens. Absolute values of heat-leak rates and apparent thermal conductivities are computed from a combination of (1) the aforementioned comparative values and (2) calibration factors obtained by testing reference specimens of materials that have known thermal-insulation properties.

The apparatus includes a full complement of temperature sensors, a vacuum pump and chamber, a monitoring and control system, and tools and fixtures that enable rapid and reliable installation and removal of specimens. A specimen is installed at the bottom of the vacuum chamber, and a cold-mass assembly that includes a tank is lowered into position above and around the specimen (see figure). A spring-based compensating fixture helps to ensure adequate thermal contact with possibly irregular

specimen surfaces. For a high-compression test, the springs can be replaced with spacers. A flat circular load cell at the bottom of the chamber measures the compressive load on the specimen. Once the desired compressive-load, temperature, and vacuum/gas-filling conditions are established, testing begins. During a test, all measurements are recorded by use of a portable data-acquisition system and a computer.

The total heat-leak rate is measured and calculated as the boil-off flow rate multiplied by the latent heat of vaporization. The parasitic heat leak (to the side of the specimen and to the top and side of the cold-mass tank) is reduced to a small fraction of the total heat leak by use of a combination of multilayer-insulation (MLI) shield rings, reflective film, a fiberglass/epoxy centering ring, and a bulk fill of aerogel beads. This combination eliminates the need for a cryogenic guard chamber used in a typical prior apparatus to reduce the parasitic heat leak.

This work was done by James E. Fesmire of Kennedy Space Center and Stanislaw D. Augustynowicz of Dynacs, Inc. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Physical Sciences category. KSC-12390