Equivalent Mass Benefits from Employing Vapor Compression Refrigeration on Spacecraft



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


50th International Conference on Environmental Systems


Thermoelectric cooling, reversed Brayton cycles and Stirling cycle devices are common cooling technologies employed on spacecraft where temperatures below the radiator temperature are needed. Although used less often in microgravity, vapor compression refrigeration was proposed for microgravity applications as early as the 1970s. Researchers proposed the vapor compression cycle over other cooling technologies for its superior energy efficiency in the typical refrigerator/freezer and air-conditioning temperature range. The higher energy efficiency should alleviate the mass penalty of the thermal system, conceivably both for satellites and manned spacecraft. Despite numerous propositions, the literature lacks a discussion of the absolute equivalent mass benefit achievable and the value of it relative to the total mass of the thermal system of the spacecraft or the spacecraft itself. This paper presents the equivalent mass benefits of employing a vapor compression system over other cooling technologies using a mass penalty factor for power consumption. Additionally, a prototype vapor compression cooler sized to fit into an ISS locker is presented.


Leon P. M. Brendel, Purdue University
Stephen L. Caskey, Air Squared, Inc
Michael K. Ewert, NASA Johnson Space Center
Alberto R. Gomes, Whirlpool Corporation
James E. Braun, Purdue University
Eckhard A. Groll, Purdue University
ICES201: Two-Phase Thermal Control Technology
The 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held virtually on 12 July 2021 through 14 July 2021.


Vapor compression cycle, microgravity, mass penalty, equivalent mass, cooling technologies