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CO2 Insulation for Thermal Control of the Mars Science LaboratoryThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is sending a large (>850 kg) rover as part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission to Mars in 2011. The rover's primary power source is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) that generates roughly 2000 W of heat, which is converted to approximately 110 W of electrical power for use by the rover electronics, science instruments, and mechanism-actuators. The large rover size and extreme thermal environments (cold and hot) for which the rover is designed for led to a sophisticated thermal control system to keep it within allowable temperature limits. The pre-existing Martian atmosphere of low thermal conductivity CO2 gas (8 Torr) is used to thermally protect the rover and its components from the extremely cold Martian environment (temperatures as low as -130 deg C). Conventional vacuum based insulation like Multi Layer Insulation (MLI) is not effective in a gaseous atmosphere, so engineered gaps between the warm rover internal components and the cold rover external structure were employed to implement this thermal isolation. Large gaps would lead to more thermal isolation, but would also require more of the precious volume available within the rover. Therefore, a balance of the degree of thermal isolation achieved vs. the volume of rover utilized is required to reach an acceptable design. The temperature differences between the controlled components and the rover structure vary from location to location so each gap has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to arrive at an optimal thickness. For every configuration and temperature difference, there is a critical thickness below which the heat transfer mechanism is dominated by simple gaseous thermal conduction. For larger gaps, the mechanism is dominated by natural convection. In general, convection leads to a poorer level of thermal isolation as compared to conduction. All these considerations play important roles in the optimization process. A three-step process was utilized to design this insulation. The first step is to come up with a simple, textbook based, closed-form equation assessment of gap thickness vs. resultant thermal isolation achieved. The second step is a more sophisticated numerical assessment using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software to investigate the effect of complicated geometries and temperature contours along them to arrive at the effective thermal isolation in a CO2 atmosphere. The third step is to test samples of representative geometries in a CO2 filled chamber to measure the thermal isolation achieved. The results of these assessments along with the consistency checks across these methods leads to the formulation of design-guidelines for gap implementation within the rover geometry. Finally, based on the geometric and functional constraints within the real rover system, a detailed design that accommodates all these factors is arrived at. This paper will describe in detail this entire process, the results of these assessments and the final design that was implemented.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
External Source(s)
Bhandari, Pradeep
(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Karlmann, Paul
(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Anderson, Kevin
(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Novak, Keith
(Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 26, 2013
Publication Date
July 18, 2011
Subject Category
Fluid Mechanics And Thermodynamics
Distribution Limits
thermal control

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