An apparatus and method have been developed for measuring the rates of leakage of heat into pipes carrying liquids, the purpose of the measurements being to quantify the thermal performance of the insulation system. The apparatus is designed primarily for testing pipes used to carry cryogenic liquids, but can also be used for measuring the thermal performance of other insulated pipes or piping systems.

The basic measurement principle is straightforward: The outer surface of the pipe insulation is maintained at a fixed warmer temperature. The interior of the pipe is maintained in a narrow fixed lower-temperature range by means of a regular liquid (e.g., water) that is pumped through the pipe at a known flow rate or a cryogenic liquid (e.g., nitrogen) that is saturated at atmospheric pressure and replenished until steady-state conditions are achieved.

Thermal Guard Boxes at the ends of a pipe under test are used to make the fluid connections to the pipe.In addition, a temperature control device imposes a specified temperature on the outer surface of the pipeinsulation.
In the case of water or another liquid pumped through, the inlet and outlet temperatures are measured and heatleak power is calculated as the mass flow rate of the liquid multiplied by the specific heat of the liquid multiplied by the inlet-to-outlet temperature rise of the liquid. In the case of liquid nitrogen or another low-temperature boiling liquid, the heat-leak power is calculated as the rate of boil-off multiplied by the latent heat of vaporization of the liquid. Then the thermal-insulation performance of the pipe system can be calculated as a function of the measured heat-leak power, the inner and outer boundary temperatures, and the dimensions of the pipe.

The apparatus can test as many as three pipes simultaneously. The pipes can have inner diameters up to ≈15 cm and outer diameters up to ≈20 cm. The lengths of the pipes may vary; typical lengths are of the order of 18 m.

Two thermal guard boxes — one for each end of the pipe(s) under test — are used to make the inlet and outlet fluid connections to the pipe(s) (see figure). The connections include bellows that accommodate thermal expansion and contraction of the pipes. The guard boxes and pipe(s) are positioned so that the pipe(s) slope upward from the upstream to the downstream end at an angle of at least 2°. The upward slope allows vapor bubbles to accumulate at the downstream end.

The thermal guard boxes keep the ends of the pipes at the lower interior temperature to prevent spurious lengthwise leakage of heat into the pipes. It is important to prevent this spurious heat leakage because, if it were allowed to occur, it could contribute a large error in the measured heat-leak power. The upstream thermal guard box includes a heat exchanger through which liquid flowing into the pipe(s) is subcooled to the saturation temperature corresponding to the ambient pressure. Conversely, this heat exchanger can also be used to warm the flowing liquid to a desired fixed temperature.

The apparatus includes a temperature control device that is placed around each pipe under test. Each device is operated under thermostatic control to maintain the outer surface of the pipe insulation at the specified test temperature. All measurements are recorded on a portable data-acquisition system.

This work was done by James E. Fesmire of Kennedy Space Center and Stanislaw D. Augustynowicz and Zoltan F. Nagy of Dynacs, Inc.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Technology Programs and Commercialization Office, Kennedy Space Center, (321) 867-8130. Refer to KSC-12205.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2003 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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