Processing of Packing Foams Using Heat Melt Compaction



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44th International Conference on Environmental Systems


Foam is used extensively as packing material for items sent to the International Space Station (ISS). Although lightweight, foam is bulky and can occupy a large fraction of the limited ISS volume. Four chemically distinct foams have been used on the ISS. In descending order of current usage, these are Plastazote > Zotek > Minicel > Pyrell. Processing foam with the Heat Melt Compactor (HMC), a solid waste treatment system, has been proposed to reduce the volume of foams stored on spacecraft. Prior to HMC testing, Thermogravimetric Analyses were conducted on the four foams as a precaution to ensure that the thermal decomposition temperatures were not within range of HMC operation (≤180°C). Pyrell was not tested with the HMC because it is known to release toxic compounds and comprises less than 1.5% of total foam usage on ISS resupply flights. Zotek, Minicel, Plastazote LD24FR (low density), and Plastazote LD45FR (high density) were processed with the HMC at 130, 150 and 170°C. Volume was reduced by 82.6% on average (n=19; std dev=4.88). Hydrocarbons and several other compounds emitted during foam processing were measured using a Total Hydrocarbon Analyzer and FTIR. Effects of process temperature and foam type on exhaust composition are discussed. Feeding of foams into the limited size opening of the HMC compaction chamber is likely to be a challenge, particularly in microgravity. Some suggestions are proposed to facilitate feeding foam into the HMC. Processing packing foam with the HMC has been shown to substantially reduce foam volume, and also has the potential benefit of producing radiation-shielding foam tiles.


Tucson, Arizona
Linden Harris, CSS-Dynamac Corporation, USA
Richard Alba, CSS-Dynamac Corporation, USA
Kanapathipillai Wignarajah, CSS-Dynamac Corporation, USA
John Fisher, NASA Ames Research Center, USA
Oscar Monje, NASA Kennedy Space Center, USA
Brandon Maryatt, NASA Johnson Space Center, USA
James Broyan, NASA Johnson Space Center, USA
Gregory Pace, Lockheed Martin, USA
The 44th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Tuscon, Arizona, USA on 13 July 2014 through 17 July 2014.