A bladderless water tank (see figure) has been developed that contains capillary devices that allow it to be filled and emptied, as needed, in microgravity. When filled with water, the tank shields human occupants of a spacecraft against cosmic radiation. A membrane that is permeable by air but is hydrophobic (neither wettable nor permeable by liquid water) covers one inside surface of the tank. Grooves between the surface and the membrane allow air to flow through vent holes in the surface as the tank is filled or drained. A margin of wettable surface surrounds the edges of the membrane, and all the other inside tank surfaces are also wettable. A fill/drain port is located in one corner of the tank and is covered with a hydrophilic membrane.
As filling begins, water runs from the hydrophilic membrane into the corner fillets of the tank walls. Continued filling in the absence of gravity will result in a single contiguous air bubble that will be vented through the hydrophobic membrane. The bubble will be reduced in size until it becomes spherical and smaller than the tank thickness. Draining the tank reverses the process. Air is introduced through the hydrophobic membrane, and liquid continuity is maintained with the fill/drain port through the corner fillets. Even after the tank is emptied, as long as the suction pressure on the hydrophilic membrane does not exceed its bubble point, no air will be drawn into the liquid line.
This work was done by Eugene K. Ungar, Frederick Smith, and Gregg Edeen of Johnson Space Center and Jay C. Almlie of Hernandez Engineering, Inc. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Mechanics/Machinery category. MSC-23251-1