NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is offering opportunities for its new fiber optic mass flow sensor system. Capable of measuring multi-phase flows in a pipe, the technology is minimally invasive, cost-effective, retrofittable, and compact. MSFC's new technology combines high accuracy, intrinsically safe operation, and low-cost flow sensing for virtually any optically transparent medium, providing a superior product for measuring multi-phase flows.

The infrasound sensor is a highly refined microphone that can detect acoustic waves from 20 Hz down to DC.

Unlike commercial turbine and Venturi-type sensors that are flow-intrusive and prone to high error rates, NASA's new flow sensor technology uses an optical technique to precisely measure the physical characteristics of a liquid flowing within a pipe. It generates a reading of the flow's density, which provides a highly accurate mass flow measurement when combined with flow velocity data from a second optical sensor.

NASA's sensor technology provides both a void fraction measurement (a measurement of the instantaneous gas/liquid percentage of a static volume) and a quality measurement (the fraction of flow that is vapor as part of a total mass flow). It also provides a direct measurement of the gas/liquid concentration within the flow, making it suited for realtime measurement of multi-phase flows.

The sensor has no moving parts and keeps all sensor components external to the flow path and insensitive to pipe material. It is safe from electromagnetic interference, and poses no radiation hazard. The sensor retrofits to existing piping systems from 0.5 to 12” diameter.

The technology was originally developed to accurately determine the flow rates and tank levels of multi-phase cryogenic fuels used on various NASA vehicles including the Space Shuttle, and in ground-based propulsion testing. It can also be used for a wide range of gas/liquid ratios, flows with complex cross-sectional profiles, flows containing bubbles or quasi-solids, and essentially any liquid, gas, or multi-phase flow that can be optically characterized. Because it is insensitive to position, the new technology also has potential for use in zero-gravity tank level sensors.

NASA's Technology Transfer Program offers commercial licensing agreements to ensure its pioneering research finds secondary uses that benefit the economy, create jobs, and improve quality of life. For more information about licensing, please contact Clark Darty at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 256-544-2728.


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This article first appeared in the October, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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