Volume 9, Issue 4 (April 2012)
Bearing Thermal Conductance Measurement Test Method and Experimental Design
Bearings are used in a number of spacecraft applications, ranging from minimal motion devices, such as pointing mechanisms, to high-speed components, such as control moment gyroscopes and reaction and momentum wheels. Terrestrial applications include pumps, axles, and tooling. Heat-transfer modes for rotational systems in a vacuum environment differ from their terrestrial counterpart. In space, with the absence of air, heat transfer consists of radiation from the rotating system and conductance through the bearings themselves. Depending on the application, conductance could dominate the effects on bearing temperatures and thermal gradients. Accurate thermal predictions are important because they can drive life and performance requirements. To accurately predict bearing temperatures, basic bearing thermal conductance data was needed. However, bearing thermal conductance tends to be the most significant unknown in a rotational system in the space environment. To address this shortcoming, this paper explores a new vacuum test rig designed to measure bearing conductance under simulated operational conditions. Experimental variables include control of the bearing rotational speed, applied axial load, and average bearing temperature and temperature gradient via an applied heat source/heat sink mechanism. All tests are conducted in vacuum. The experimental variables studied herein allowed parametric studies to be conducted under controlled thermal and mechanical conditions, permitting the exploration of the influences of those operational variables on bearing thermal conductance. This paper will describe the test method, the use of uncertainty analysis to design the experiment, and a verification study.