The multimodal friction ignition tester (MFIT) is a testbed for experiments on the thermal and mechanical effects of friction on material specimens in pressurized, oxygen-rich atmospheres. In simplest terms, a test involves recording sensory data while rubbing two specimens against each other at a controlled normal force, with either a random stroke or a sinusoidal stroke having controlled amplitude and frequency. The term “multimodal” in the full name of the apparatus refers to a capability for imposing any combination of widely ranging values of the atmospheric pressure, atmospheric oxygen content, stroke length, stroke frequency, and normal force. The MFIT was designed especially for studying the tendency toward heating and combustion of nonmetallic composite materials and the fretting of metals subjected to dynamic (vibrational) friction forces in the presence of liquid oxygen or pressurized gaseous oxygen — test conditions approximating conditions expected to be encountered in proposed composite-material oxygen tanks aboard aircraft and spacecraft in flight.
The MFIT includes a stainless-steel pressure vessel capable of retaining the required test atmosphere. Mounted atop the vessel is a pneumatic cylinder containing a piston for exerting the specified normal force between the two specimens (see figure). Through a shaft seal, the piston shaft extends downward into the vessel. One of the specimens is mounted on a block, denoted the pressure block, at the lower end of the piston shaft. This specimen is pressed down against the other specimen, which is mounted in a recess in another block, denoted the slip block, that can be moved horizontally but not vertically. The slip block is driven in reciprocating horizontal motion by an electrodynamic vibration exciter outside the pressure vessel. The armature of the electrodynamic exciter is connected to the slip block via a horizontal shaft that extends into the pressure vessel via a second shaft seal. The reciprocating horizontal motion can be chosen to be random with a flat spectrum over the frequency range of 10 Hz to 1 kHz, or to be sinusoidal at any peak-to-peak amplitude up to 0.8 in. (≈2 cm) and fixed or varying frequency up to 1 kHz.
The temperatures of the specimen and of the vessel are measured by thermocouples. A digital video camera mounted outside the pressure vessel is aimed into the vessel through a sapphire window, with its focus fixed on the interface between the two specimens. A position transducer monitors the displacement of the pneumatic-cylinder shaft. The pressure in the vessel is also monitored. During a test, the output of the video camera, the temperatures, and the pneumatic-shaft displacement are monitored and recorded. The test is continued for a predetermined amount of time (typically, 10 minutes) or until either (1) the output of the position transducer shows a sudden change indicative of degradation of either or both specimens, (2) ignition or another significant reaction is observed, or (3) pressure in the vessel increases beyond a pre-set level that triggers an automatic shutdown.