China has achieved a major milestone in space exploration with the successful ignition test in the combustion cabinet of the Mengtian space lab module, as reported by the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization (CSU) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
The experiment involved the use of methane as fuel, with the ignition lasting for a total of 30 seconds. The test verified the accuracy and scientificity of the entire experimental process, as well as the functions of the combustion science experimental system of the space station.
Prior to the experiment, astronauts mounted the ignition head in the gas experiment tool with the help of scientific researchers on Earth. The combustion cabinet then completed a series of automated procedures, including the configuration of the combustion environment gas, fuel gas ejection, ignition head heating and ignition, parameter collection, optical diagnosis and filtration cycle.
High-speed camera images of the experiment showed the methane premixed flame surrounded by the diffusion flame, with the diffusion flame shorter and rounder than on the ground, as it is not affected by buoyancy force. The microgravity combustion experiment provides insights into the development of combustion theories and models, as it excludes buoyancy convection and inhibits the sedimentation of particles or droplets.
China has planned 10 research programs in the field of microgravity combustion science, with 79 experimental subjects, and is expected to complete over 40 in-orbit combustion experiments by the end of 2023. The successful experiment will provide the first batch of space station experimental data in the microgravity combustion field and support the theoretical development of ground and space combustion applications and materials synthesis.
According to the CSU researcher, He Yufeng, the Mengtian lab module’s scientific experiment cabinets have completed power supply checks, a basic function self-check, a function index test, and parameter tuning, with more than 50 tasks carried out, including extravehicular payload insulation and high-precision time-frequency cabinet and ultra-cold atomic cabinet vacuum preservation.