Incredible NASA Experiments Shows Largest Ever (Manmade) Fire in Space!

First Published: June 19, 2016 Last updated: February 7th, 2019 Written by: Ian Stephens Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes Posted in: Space

Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to getting plenty of cool videos from NASA. These videos tend to be showing us what they are supposedly up to in the sky. They also tend to go from being logical and pretty awesome to watch, to just…strange!

One of the recent experiments that has been uploaded to the web has been the “largest ever fire in space”. Obviously, the largest ever fire in space that we are talking about here is man-made fire. We doubt we’ll ever see us getting to sun-like levels of man-made fire anytime soon, after all! For the time being, though, this new experiment seems to be a step in some direction.

Saffire Spacecraft

Saffire Spacecraft

These two new videos that have been released showcase a large-scale fire which has been lit inside an unmanned cargo ship in space. As part of a new – and rather daring – experiment, this was part of an experiment to try and find out how big fires grow when they are in space. Apparently it was part of an astronaut safety examination, to see just how bad things could get in the event of a fire up there.

This experiment part of three planned NASA experiments on the matter, and they seem to be pretty interesting. However, we do have to ask why they’ve never tested this before?

Surely there’s been at least some kind of fire in space in the past on a craft?

Regardless, you can see these cool videos if you head over to the NASA Glenn Research official Twitter account.

Alternatively, view the video below.

VIDEO: Saffire experiment

The Test Results

The first video that you can watch is a pre-test of the air system. The actual fire itself, which occurred at 4:55PM ET on the 15th June, 2016, can be seen in the second video.

NASA performed a quick pre-test to show that tendrils of smoke moving across the box. This was to show that air was moving through smoothly. Watch the first video and you’ll see that everything went according to plan.

After this initial pre-test was out of the way, they moved on to the actual test itself. In the video, you will see a fabric being lit on one side using a hot wire sitting against the material. This sites and smoulders away for about eight minutes. Now, watch the second video and you’ll see the results – it’s pretty cool to watch.

The ship that was used, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship, launched from Earth the first time in March. It brought more than 3,200kg of food and supplied for the International Space Station to use. The station itself apparently flies around 400km above the planet.

Among the supplies in this mission, though, was the Saffire. This was a module with a 38-inch x 19-inch fiberglass material sample. Once Cygnus reached a safe enough distance from the station, they carried out the experiment.

The first occurrence was that the hot wires ignited the sample, and as the air flowed through the ducts it would fan the fire. The fire itself lasted for around eight minutes. The whole point of the exercise, though, is to see whether or not material will burn or whether the potential for fire is limited due to the change in atmosphere.

VIDEO: How the Saffire Experiment Will Be Conducted

Breaking New Ground

According to David Urban, the lead researcher for the experiment known as Saffire, noted the improvement in this experiment. Previously, the only space incinerations which had taken place had been around the size of an index card. This piece of fabric is much larger, by comparison.

Speaking to NASA TV, Urban stated that they received resistance in the past to being allowed to carry this experiment out. Eventually, though, it was settled that the experiment would be carried out on the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship. This ship is designed to burn up in the atmosphere once it departs the space station.

Each part of the module in the experiment is controlled by a 3x5ft module, which has two separate compartments. One side utilizes an avionics bay that has multiple sensors and high definition video cameras as well as processing equipment.

The other side, though, has the ignition hardware that is needed to burn the materials inside themselves. The plan is to find out whether a flame moving upward is going to keep burning or does it hit a peak?

They also want to what burn and what will not burn in the confines of space. It’s going to be interesting viewing the next experiments to come, as it will showcase just how easy – or challenging – future protection for astronauts may be.

Why Now?

As we asked earlier, why has it taken so long to get to this point to try it out? This is, after all, the largest fire event in space since the accidental fire of the Russian Mir space station. This occurred in February 1997, when an oxygen canister erupted into flame and even blocked the team off from their escape shuttle.

After fighting and defeating the fire with foam extinguishers and water, the fire itself eventually died out. Thankfully, the crew were left unharmed and the accidental blaze was snuffed out. It seems that now they want to try and find the easiest way to prevent such an event from taking place again. That safety is a priority is a good thing, but it just seems odd that it’s taken so long to get to this point.

The argument that was provided was that in the past risks were too great to potential crew members involved, which limited the experiments to be very limited. Whatever the reason, it’s good that we now seem to be moving in the right direction.

This experiment is, after all, the first of three major events in the Saffire program, all taking place aboard Cygnus aircraft. Since all of the future planned events will be like this, away from the space station, there is now no threat posed apparently.

About Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens is an editor and writer for UFO Insight. He has a keen interest in the fields of strange phenomena, UFOs and aliens. He is also interested in space, physics and science in general. Writing for over 10 years in these fields, Ian has a lot of experience and knowledge to share.

You can contact Ian via email.

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