An improved cryostat has been developed for cooling a wide panel evenly over its surface to a temperature of -423 °F (≈-253 °C) by use of liquid helium. Originally, the cryostat was to be used in measuring apparent strains in wide aluminum/ lithium panels as functions of temperature in order to develop data for temperature compensation of the readings of strain gauges on a tank containing liquid hydrogen. Relative to the cryostat used previously for this purpose, the improved cryostat can be prepared for a test in less time, and it loses less helium during each test.

Each wide panel to be tested is instrumented with thermocouples in preparation for a test. The previous cryostat was made of two aluminum halves that, for each test, were sandwiched together and sealed around the instrumented wide panel to be tested. The panel was thus enclosed in a plenum. The cryostat and adjacent panel areas protruding from the cryostat were then coated with a thermally insulating foam.

The Liquid-Helium-Injection Manifold in the improved cryostat forces the helium to flow in a pattern in which it cools the panel more efficiently than in the previous cryostat.

During a test, liquid helium was made to flow into the plenum through a port on the bottom. The helium vaporized and expanded, filling the plenum with cold helium gas, which eventually flowed out of the plenum through a port on the top. The nature of the flow was such that a significant portion of the helium did not come into contact with the wide panel; hence, cooling was less efficient than it might otherwise have been.

After completion of each test, the foam and the cryostat were separated from the panel. The cryostat was cleaned and prepared for installation on another instrumented wide panel for the next test. It took 28 hours to install the cryostat onto the instrumented panel, apply the foam, and perform ancillary operations in preparation for a test. The volume of liquid helium consumed during each test was 750 liters.

The improved cryostat (see figure) includes an upper section and a lower section, both of which include permanent housings made of a thermally insulating foam 2-in. (≈5-cm) thick. A liquid-helium- injection manifold is attached to the inside of the top section. The bottom section includes an outlet for helium gas. The manifold contains slots that, when the cryostat is installed on the panel, are located approximately 1 in. (≈2.5 cm) from the wide panel. The array of slots spans a substantial portion of the area of the panel. The top and bottom sections of the cryostat are sealed to the panel by use of polytetrafluoroethylene cord and aluminum tape.

Liquid helium is fed into the manifold from the top. The helium leaves the manifold through the slots and thus impinges directly on the panel. Hence, all the helium entering the cryostat must come into contact with the panel before leaving the cryostat. After a test, the cryostat is removed from the panel and reinstalled onto another panel for the next test. Installation of the cryostat on an instrumented panel takes a negligible amount of time, in comparison with the 28 hours associated with the previous cryostat. The amount of liquid helium consumed during a test in the improved cryostat is 500 liters &151; 250 liters less than before.

This work was done by W. B. Clifton of Lockheed Martin Corp. for Marshall Space Flight Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Physical Sciences category. MFS-31697

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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