NASA is going to start a fire on a spacecraft for science

NASA has announced plans to start a fire on a spacecraft in order to help researchers understand how such fires grow and which materials burn up in a microgravity environment. This isn't the first time NASA has started a fire in space — in fact, it has done this twice before — but it will mark the last time the space agency does so. The project is called SAFFIRE III, and is part of a series of experiments.

The SAFFIRE III Spacecraft Fire Experiment will take place within the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft that left the International Space Station a couple days ago. The experiment will last a total of 2.5 hours, with the actual burn lasting for about 20 minutes of that. The vessel in which the fire will take place has been designed in such a way to mimic the ISS's oxygen levels.

According to the space agency, the experiment would begin once the spacecraft had entered into a stable orbit — whether it has already taken place isn't clear, but it should be any moment now. It will, however, take several days for Cygnus to send the collected experiment data to researchers on the Earth, after which point it will enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up.

The data will be analyzed by researchers at Orbital's Dulles, Virginia location, as well as by researchers with NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The information will help the space agency make future decisions regarding human safety during space missions, better enabling them to stop fires before they happen or, if the worst takes place, to contain them promptly.