An interesting discussion of combustion research in microgravity:
Public Affairs Officer Lori Meggs at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama talks about a “cool” flames experiment in space. Meggs speaks to Vedha Nayagam, co-investigator for the FLEX-2 combustion experiment.
You never want to hear about a fire in space, but for this experiment, that’s exactly what had to happen. The FLEX-2 experiment burned different types of fuel droplets and showed us how flames behave without gravity, so that we may learn better ways to extinguish flames in space — information that could lead to improved environmentally friendly fuels on Earth.
Space exploration and development is often presented as a robot versus manned binary choice but it is really robot versus manned + robot. To accomplish significant development in space, humans will need the productivity multipliers provided by robots, particularly tele-operated ones. Resource extraction and processing, construction, and other tasks in the vacuum and radiation of space, in the dust of the Moon, etc will be controlled by people nearby in safe and cozy habitats.
Thangavelu’s presentation discusses many topics related to such scenarios. He starts with the CoRobot concept, in which robots work closely with people to assist them in different ways. He then moves to the SARA (Surrogate Astronaut Robot Avatar) concept in which a person wears an elaborate suit whose movements are mimicked by a robot out, say, on the surface of the Moon. Thangavelu lays out a plan for developing and testing SARA systems starting with a facility on the ISS.