Thermal Vacuum Testing of a Helium Loop Heat Pipe for Large Area Cryocooling
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Future NASA space telescopes and exploration missions require cryocooling of large areas such as optics, detector arrays, and cryogenic propellant tanks. One device that can potentially be used to provide closed-loop cryocooling is the cryogenic loop heat pipe (CLHP). A CLHP has many advantages over other devices in terms of reduced mass, reduced vibration, high reliability, and long life. A helium CLHP has been tested extensively in a thermal vacuum chamber using a cryocooler as the heat sink to characterize its transient and steady performance and verify its ability to cool large areas or components in the 3K temperature range. A copper plate with attached electrical heaters was used to simulate the heat source, and heat was collected by the CLHP evaporator and transferred to the cryocooler for ultimate heat rejection. The helium CLHP thermal performance test included cool-down from the ambient temperature, startup, capillary limit, heat removal capability, rapid power changes, and long duration steady state operation. The helium CLHP demonstrated robust operation under steady state and transient conditions. The loop could be cooled from the ambient temperature to subcritical temperatures very effectively, and could start successfully without pre-conditioning by simply applying power to both the capillary pump and the evaporator plate. It could adapt to rapid changes in the heat load, and reach a new steady state very quickly. Heat removal between 10mW and 140mW was demonstrated, yielding a power turn down ratio of 14. When the CLHP capillary limit was exceeded, the loop could resume its normal function by reducing the power to the capillary pump. Steady state operations up to 17 hours at several heat loads were demonstrated. The ability of the helium CLHP to cool large areas was therefore successfully verified.