Tech Briefs

Either water or liquid nitrogen levels can be measured within 1-mm spatial resolution and 1°C up to a distance of 70 m from the optical interrogation unit.

An innovative fiber-optic sensor has been developed for low-thrust-level settled mass gauging with measurement uncertainty <0.5 percent over cryogenic propellant tank fill levels from 2 to 98 percent. The proposed sensor uses a single optical fiber to measure liquid level and liquid distribution of cryogenic propellants. Every point of the sensing fiber is a “point sensor” that not only distinguishes liquid and vapor, but also measures temperature. This sensor is able to determine the physical location of each “point sensor” with 1-mm spatial resolution. Acting as a continuous array of numerous liquid/vapor point sensors, the truly distributed optical sensing fiber can be installed in a propellant tank in the same manner as silicon diode point sensor stripes using only a single feed-through to connect to an optical signal interrogation unit outside the tank.

Either water or liquid nitrogen levels can be measured within 1-mm spatial resolution up to a distance of 70 meters from the optical interrogation unit. This liquid-level sensing technique was also compared to the pressure gauge measurement technique in water and liquid nitrogen contained in a vertical copper pipe with a reasonable degree of accuracy. It has been demonstrated that the sensor can measure liquid levels in multiple containers containing water or liquid nitrogen with one signal interrogation unit. The liquid levels measured by the multiple fiber sensors were consistent with those virtually measured by a ruler.

The sensing performance of various optical fibers has been measured, and has demonstrated that they can survive after immersion at cryogenic temperatures. The fiber strength in liquid nitrogen has also been measured. Multiple water level tests were also conducted under various actual and theoretical vibration conditions, and demonstrated that the signal-to-noise ratio under these vibration conditions, insofar as it affects measurement accuracy, is manageable and robust enough for a wide variety of spacecraft applications. A simple solution has been developed to absorb optical energy at the termination of the optical sensor, thereby avoiding any feedback to the optical interrogation unit.

This work was done by Wei Xu of Broadband Photonics for Glenn Research Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Physical Sciences category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18505-1.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Fiber-Optic Continuous Liquid Sensor for Cryogenic Propellant Gauging (reference LEW-18505-1) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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