TEES center provides commercial space flight opportunities

October 2, 2002

COLLEGE STATION - Testing products in space for use on earth isn't a dream of future space travel. It is a reality at the Center for Space Power (CSP), one of two NASA-supported space centers in the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). The CSP is one of only 15 centers nationwide that is funded by NASA to do research and provide a vehicle for companies to develop their commercial products in space. Among the projects currently being researched at the CSP are ones on photovoltaic materials that convert sunlight into electrical power for spacecraft, temperature controls for spacecraft and encapsulating drugs in space -- with the products being studied in order to try and re-create the results on earth for future use in space. "The shuttles have historically carried experiments with them that were actually done while in orbit," said Fred Best, director of the CSP and associate professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University. "Now, the experiments are being created for the International Space Station, and the shuttles will be mainly transporting them." A research experiment on heat pipes -- which passively move thermal energy from one location to the other -- previously flew on one of the shuttle missions. Products from this experiment have been sold to companies who now are using them on telecommunications satellites. Another space-related research project conducted in zero gravity is one in which gas is separated from liquid by the creation of a spinning vortex inside a stationary cylinder. "The best example of needing to separate liquid from gas is simply human breath," Best said. "You have air and water together, and they need to be separated for reprocessing." As a way to resolve this problem, Best created the Vortex Phase Separator that will fly as part of an experiment on the space shuttle. "The main advantage of this device is that there are no moving parts and therefore, no maintenance is necessary, which is very important on space vehicles," Best said. Industry partners of the commercial space centers develop their product ideas in space to see what works. Then, they study the findings of the research and work toward duplicating them on earth for future use in space. Best says that there are many non-traditional industry partners working on projects that will benefit from using the space station as a laboratory. "We are at a point in space research that is comparable to when the railroad was just going across the country, first connecting the east coast with the west coast," Best said. "There is no limit to where we can go from here." NR 1084 10/02/02

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