SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1993

Microgravity and Normal Gravity Combustion of Metals and Alloys in High Pressure Oxygen


The NASA White Sands Test Facility has completed an extensive test program aimed at evaluating the burning characteristics of metals and alloys in microgravity environments. The metals and alloys burned in 100% oxygen include rods of 2219 aluminum, 316 stainless steel, copper, nickel 200, Monel K-500, zinc, magnesium, tungsten, iron, and titanium. Sheets and meshes of 316 stainless steel were also tested to study configuration effects. All metals and alloys tested supported combustion in the absence of gravity which indicates surface tension induced circulation is sufficient to ensure fuel/oxidizer mixing. The microgravity combustion of 316 stainless steel volatilized the chromium or chromium oxide, a result that does not occur in similar normal gravity tests. In microgravity the melting surface no longer remains horizontal but becomes slanted and the molten ball obtains a spherical shape and is often observed to precess around the rod. As in normal gravity, during the microgravity burning of the rods, the regression rate of the melting surface increases with either increasing oxygen pressure or decreasing rod diameter. In microgravity, however, the regression rate of the melting surface is significantly faster than in similar normal gravity tests. Metals and alloys considered nonflammable in normal gravity up to oxygen pressures of 68.9 MPa burned at significantly lower pressures in microgravity and configurations not considered flammable in normal gravity readily burned under similar microgravity conditions. These observations are consistent with the conclusion, due to retention of the molten material during microgravity burning, that the temperature in the molten ball in microgravity is greater than in normal gravity.

Author Information

Steinberg, TA
Lockheed-ESC, White Sands Test Facility, Las Cruces, NM
Wilson, DB
Lockheed-ESC, White Sands Test Facility, Las Cruces, NM
Benz, FJ
NASA, White Sands Test Facility, Las Cruces, NM
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Developed by Committee: G04
Pages: 133–145
DOI: 10.1520/STP24855S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5247-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1855-3