Digital radiography by use of (1) a field- portable x-ray tube that emits low- energy x rays and (2) an electronic imaging x-ray detector has been found to be an effective technique for detecting liquid nitrogen inside voids in thermal- insulation panels. The technique was conceived as a means of investigating cryopumping (including cryoingestion) as a potential cause of loss of thermal insulation foam from space-shuttle external fuel tanks. The technique could just as well be used to investigate cryopumping and cryoingestion in other settings.
In images formed by use of low-energy x-rays, one can clearly distinguish between voids filled with liquid nitrogen and those filled with gaseous nitrogen or other gases. Conventional film radiography is of some value, but yields only non-real-time still images that do not show time dependences of levels of liquids in voids. In contrast, the present digital radiographic technique yields a succession of images in real time at a rate of about 10 frames per second. The digitized images can be saved for subsequent analysis to extract data on time dependencies of levels of liquids and, hence, of flow paths and rates of filling and draining. The succession of images also amounts to a real-time motion picture that can be used as a guide to adjustment of test conditions.
This work was done by Dwight Cox and Elana Blevins of Lockheed Martin Corp. for Marshall Space Flight Center.