Microgravity Propellant Gauging Using Modal Analysis

PI: Kevin Crosby, Carthage College

Low gravity propellant mass gauging is identified in NASA’s Exploratory Systems Architecture Study as a primary research challenge. The future of manned spaceflight beyond LEO relies in part on the development of accurate and robust methods of mass gauging in both settled and unsettled propellant states. We propose to utilize parabolic flights to test a novel technique for measuring the mass of liquid contained in a model propellant tank.

June 2015 article after second parabolic flight week: Students go weightless for research

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA02 In-Space Propulsion Technologies
Problem Statement

In our technique, Experimental Modal Analysis (EMA) methods are applied to detect shifts in resonant mode frequencies of a liquid-loaded tank as liquid is drained from the tank. In the EMA method, a broad-band acoustic signal is introduced to the tank and the resonant response of the tank is sampled at different locations on the tank using PZT sensors. The central objective of the proposed experiment is to determine the resolution of the EMA technique in both settled and unsettled (sloshing) propellant states. Ground testing of the experimental methods demonstrates that the technique is a sensitive probe of tank fill-fraction. Comparison with existing direct and indirect techniques for assessing propellant volume in reduced gravity suggests that the modal analysis method may prove to be more cost effective and afford better resolution than existing methods.

Payload Description

The students explain the test setup in this video: More videos at carthageUSIP twitter

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    USIP-13 (Aug 2013)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    TRL 4
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 2 Parabolic
  • 0 sRLV

Development Team

Web Accessibility and Privacy Notices Curator: Alexander van Dijk Responsible NASA Official: Stephan Ord Last Update: November 16, 2018