Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) of Madison, WI, has been a longtime NASA partner, working with the Agency on numerous projects, many through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. ORBITEC collaborated with Marshall Space Flight Center to develop products such as a cool-wall vortex combustion chamber that represents a new method of rocket engine design. By feeding liquid or gas oxidizer into the combustion chamber in a manner that generates a swirling vortex flow, the design confines the mixing and burning of the propellant to the core of the chamber, keeping the walls free from volatile thermal stresses. ORBITEC applied this innovation to an advanced vortex hybrid rocket engine that combines solid and liquid fuel to power a low-cost, highly reliable, and versatile propulsion option.
Through work with the U.S. Air Force Fire Rescue Research Group to develop means for more effectively extinguishing hydrocarbon-based fuel fires, ORBITEC subsidiary HMA Fire developed fire suppression systems that utilized ultra-high pressure (UHP) for firefighting.
One series of tests using empty houses at Vandenberg Air Force Base compared an HMA system with a 20-gallonper- minute, 1,400 pounds-per-squareinch (psi) discharge capability (at the pump) versus a standard 100-gallon-perminute, 125 psi standard hand line — the kind that typically takes a few firemen to control. The standard line extinguished a set fire in a living room in 1 minute and 45 seconds using 220 gallons of water. The HMA system extinguished an identical fire in 17.3 seconds using 13.6 gallons — with a hose requiring only one person to manage.
The key is the pressure of its discharge, which results in smaller droplets dispersed on the fire. The smaller droplets create a greater total surface area contacting the flames. In addition to helping rapidly extinguish a fire, HMA’s UHP approach also quickly reduces the temperature around a blaze and results in less smoke.
HMA’s Hydrus systems are commercially available in a range of platforms. The T4 and T6 First Responder Emergency Systems incorporate the system into easily maneuverable, all-terrain vehicles. Carrying their own water sources, these systems are ideal for fighting wildfires in areas unreachable by standard fire trucks. The systems’ high pressure discharge can also penetrate 7" into the ground if desired, cooling lingering embers and heat sources that can reignite a wildland-type fire. The UHP systems are also highly effective against hydrocarbon fuel-based car fires and have been repeatedly proven to extinguish fully engulfed cars in 9 seconds.
HMA’s systems are not intended to replace standard firefighting technology in all cases, but they can be installed on fire trucks as a first-attack tool complementing traditional low-pressure, highvolume systems.
The U.S. military employs 4 UHP units at the forward operating base near Kabul in Afghanistan to help combat fuel fires and firebomb attacks. The Navy utilizes the systems in the Middle East, and 12 Air Force bases in the US employ the technology. Municipal fire departments are interested in the technology’s NASAenhanced capabilities, meaning cities and towns nationwide could soon benefit from another example of space exploration technology improving daily life.
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