NASA SHIVVER program tests new ways to keep fuel cool

Sending humans into space is a big challenge, with the environment being extreme. For missions into space, such as the Artemis mission to the moon, the astronauts will need to carry with them liquids for fuel and life support. The liquids are stored at cryogenic temperatures ranging from -243 to -423F. One of the big challenges for NASA is how to keep that fuel from boiling off as the spacecraft heats up.

NASA points out that any propellant that evaporates can't be used by the rocket and decreases the efficiency of that rocket. NASA is looking at a series of technologies aimed at reducing boil off under the eCryo project. To test the tech at a relevant scale, the team has built a large cryogenic propellant tank that is more than 13 feet in diameter.

The tank is called SHIIVER or Structural Heat Intercept, Insulation, and Vibration Evaluation Rig. It has multilayer insulation and vapor cooling channels to minimize the heat that goes into the storage tank. The system also has Radio Frequency Mass Gauge, which is a tool designed to measure fluid levels accurately in space.

NASA ran thermal vacuum tests on SHIIVER inside the In-Space Propulsion facility at the NASA Plum Brook Station to assess the benefits of vapor-cooling and multilayer performance for in-space conditions. The first vacuum test showed a total heat reduction of more than 55% compared to current designs.

The team also tested the system with the world's most powerful acoustic test chamber to simulate a launch environment to make sure the thermal management features could survive launch. The testing was completed in January, and the team is looking forward to testing in space in the future.