NASA has awarded Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT) a $3.7 million contract to finalize the design and fabricate the flight thermal control system for the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER.
VIPER, an important part of the Artemis program, is a golf cart-sized rover that will roam several miles across the South Pole of the Moon to get a close-up view of the location and concentration of ice during its approximately 100-day mission. The Artemis program will accomplish many “firsts” for NASA and the global space community. VIPER is NASA’s first lunar robotic rover, and is the first resource-mapping mission on the surface of another celestial body. Additionally, the thermal control system developed jointly by ACT and NASA will be the first to maintain operation for a 100-day mission while in shadowed conditions. “It’s exciting to demonstrate some of the best passive thermal management solutions on such an important mission,” said Bill Anderson, Chief Engineer at ACT.
For this contract, Advanced Cooling Technologies (ACT) will deliver a combination of high-performance, passive thermal technologies specifically designed to meet the challenges associated with a long-term lunar mission.
- Loop Heat Pipes (LHPs) with integral Thermal Control Valves (TCVs)
- External Ammonia Constant Conductance Heat Pipes (CCHPs)
- Honeycomb Radiator Panels with embedded Constant Conductance Heat Pipes (CCHPs)
In addition to the flight articles, ACT will be providing system and sub-system level thermal analysis, verification, and thermal testing in coordination with the teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. All flight articles will be delivered by June 2022, meeting NASA’s critical launch schedule. The image below shows a mock-up of VIPER and various aspects of the thermal control hardware developed during the Engineering Demonstration Phase.
As referenced above, one of the most challenging aspects of VIPER’s mission is operating in shadowed conditions. Due to the slow rotation of the lunar surface relative to the sun, the environmental temperature drops to below 100K (-280F) for approximately 14 earth days. This condition has been avoided in the past, including the Apollo mission which landed in the lunar morning. To enable long-duration science missions on the lunar surface it is necessary to maintain the electronics above survival temperature while in shadows. The hardware ACT is developing reduces the amount of survival heat needed by an order of magnitude – from 100s of Watts to 10s. This significantly reduces the amount of solar power generation and mass required on the rover; ultimately extending life and functionality.
This program is a follow-on effort to an Engineering Demonstration program that concluded earlier this year. During that phase, ACT validated the performance of the thermal hardware and provided Engineering Demonstration Units (EDUs) to NASA for further testing. The collaboration between NASA and ACT dates back over a decade, nearly to ACT’s inception as a company in 2003. Many of the mission-critical technologies controlling the temperature on VIPER were developed through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and stemmed from original development programs over a decade ago. “NASA and ACT have been working for many years developing these technologies and the team is thrilled to get the chance to build the products that will actually fly to the Moon”, stated Ryan Spangler, ACT’s Lead Aerospace Engineer.
This program was also made possible by ACT’s continued investment in its space system capabilities. ACT is a global leader in space heat pipe capabilities having expertise in system-level design and high quality, reliable hardware manufacturing. Over the past 5 years, ACT has dramatically increased CCHP production- achieving over 50 million Flight Hours without failure, gained space flight heritage with Space Copper-Water Heat Pipes (SCWHPs), and progressed technology aimed for future extreme environment missions including Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.