Flow-splitting and flow-mixing thermally actuated spool valves have been developed for controlling flows of a heat-transfer fluid in a temperature-regulation system aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover. Valves like these could also be useful in terrestrial temperature-regulation systems, including automobile air- conditioning systems and general refrigeration systems. These valves are required to provide smoother actuation over a wider temperature range than the flow-splitting, thermally actuated spool valves used in the Mars Explorer Rover (MER). Also, whereas the MER valves are unstable (tending to oscillate) in certain transition temperature ranges, these valves are required not to oscillate.

The MER valves are actuated by thermal expansion of a wax against spring-loaded piston rods (as in common automotive thermostats). The MSL valves contain similar actuators that utilize thermal expansion of a silicone oil, because silicone-oil actuators were found to afford greater and more nearly linear displacements, needed for smoother actuation, over the required wider temperature range. The MSL valves also feature improved spool designs that reflect greater understanding of fluid dynamics, consideration of pressure drops in valves, and a requirement for balancing of pressures in different flow branches.

This work was done by Pradeep Bhandari, Gajanana C. Birur, David P. Bame, Paul B. Karlmann, and Mauro Prina of Caltech and William Young and Richard Fisher of Pacific Design Technology for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

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Refer to NPO-45843, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

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This article first appeared in the August, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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