Low Gravity Fluid Physics (Jeffrey G. Marchetta & John I. Hochstein)

The next generation of manned space missions, such as a mission to the Moon or Mars, will require new technologies to manage fluids in low gravity.  In space, fluids behave in strange and unfamiliar ways.  When a person fills up a cup with water on earth, the water settles to the bottom of the cup because of gravity.   If that same cup of water is placed in low gravity, then the water might end up anywhere in the cup. Fluids are important for life support, plumbing, rockets, and many other systems which are vital for humans that will live and work in space for long periods of time.  Engineers and scientists continue to try to understand this behavior and think of new ways to manage fluids in space.  With support from NASA and the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium,  current research activities in the Department of Mechanical Engineering focus on handling very low temperature, or cryogenic, liquids such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, in low gravity.  Liquid hydrogen is an essential fuel, called a propellant, for rockets.  The rockets that will transport humans from the Earth to Mars will require big fuel tanks.  This liquid fuel must be must be contained at low temperatures for long periods of time in the harsh environments found in space and on other planets.  The temperatures of objects in space and on planets can be as cold as -250oF or as hot as +2500F!  In the Department of Mechanical Engineering, we are developing and testing new technologies to manage and store these low temperature fuels in low gravity so that humans will one day be able to travel to and establish colonies on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.  Currently, Dr. Jeffrey Marchetta and Dr. Firouzeh Sabri, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics, are investigating the potential of polymer-based liquid cryogenic containers that could be used for long-term space missions to distant destinations.  They are collaborating with other scientists and engineers from the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Kennedy Space Center, and NASA Glenn Space Center to test prototypes of models developed on the University of Memphis campus. The pair’s research involves students, who will have the opportunity to visit the NASA test centers and work with NASA personnel.

Faculty Researchers:

Jeffrey G. Marchetta

John I Hochstein