IMAGE: PURDUE UNIVERSITY
A group of researchers and engineers at Purdue University, in collaboration with Whirpool Corporation and Air Squared, have successfully developed the working prototype of a zero-gravity fridge. The project is funded by NASA's Small Business Innovation Research program and can help revolutionise food storage facilities for astronauts in space. Keep reading to know more about how the zero-gravity fridge works.
Food storage has always been a tricky affair in space. While there are limited options as to what astronauts can eat, storing the food is the most difficult part. Regular food supply missions to the ISS (International Space Station) maintain a fresh food reserve on deck. However, the packaged or dehydrated food has a limited shelf life and requires complicated mechanisms for storage at a low temperature.
The zero gravity fridge aims to provide astronauts with a food supply of up to five to six years, which is twice the current shelf life of packaged foods. It would not only help with food storage facility but would also assist the experiments conducted in space that require a remote setup with low temperature. The prototype has successfully survived multiple microgravity tests and the team is ready to test it on the ISS. If successfully implemented on ISS, Nasa would explore the use of zero gravity fridge in long-term space exploration missions.
The zero gravity fridge, which was successfully tested earlier this month on Zero Gravity Corporation's microgravity flight funded by Nasa's Flight Opportunity program, provides a revolutionary solution for food storage issues in space. The working space fridge prototype eliminates the oil-based lubrication system, which heavily relies on gravity. A system filled with fluid is likely to flood in space, causing system failure and other critical issues.
Just like a typical refrigeration system on Earth, the zero gravity fridge works on vapour-compression cycles. An oil-free compressor and lubrication system forms the heart of the fridge, which circulates the refrigerant liquid at a very high speed, in order to minimise the effect of gravity. Before boarding the micro-gravity flight, the prototype was also tested in an 'upside-down state' on the Earth, and it performed well. Currently, the space fridge is being optimized to function in long-term zero-gravity environments, such as that of the ISS.