NASA Conducts Space Fire Experiments inside Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft

Recently, NASA has conducted the 4th space fire experiments under the Spacecraft Fire Safety (Saffire) series in inside Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus Cargo spacecraft.

NASA Conducts Space Fire Experiments inside Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft

NASA has been conducting these space fire experiments to investigate how fire grows and spreads in space. Saffire experiment series is especially for aboard future spacecraft bound for Mars and Moon.

NASA Conducts Space Fire Experiments Inside Cargo Spacecrafts

Image Credit: NASA

During the Saffire IV experiment, the flame was ignited in the Cygnus cargo spacecraft just like in Saffire I, II, and III experiments. This time they used carbon dioxide scrubber and smoke eater to remove particulate and carbon monoxide after burning two materials. The flame lit longer and stronger compared to the previous experiments.

According to the scientists, the Cygnus Cargo vehicle just completed its primary International Space Station (ISS) supply mission and departed the station before its planned destructive re-entry to the Earth.

For the development of future crew spacecraft, it’s important to understand how fire behaves in microgravity and how different materials propagate flames in space. It also helps in determining the operational protocols for dealing with fire emergencies, particularly when the astronauts can’t exit a spacecraft or quickly return to Earth.

A no. of USRA scientists along with the collaborators from NASA contributed to the success of the Saffire IV experiment. The USRA Director of the Glenn Engineering and Research Support (GEARS) program, Dr. Carol Kory, stated that due to serious efforts and immense contributions of USRA scientists including Jay Owens, Rosa Padilla, Gordon Berger, Paul Ferkul, Claire Fortenberry, and Dan Gotti, the program got successful. Moreover, John Easton from Case Western Reserve University also played a vital role in making the program successful.

He further mentioned that the combustion gases monitor instrument and the smoke eater filter were prototypes that would be used on the Orion spacecraft.


In the Saffire IV mission, NASA used more diagnostic equipment to see how effectively it could detect fires, measure the combustion products, and analyze future fire response and cleanup technologies. They burned a sample of SIBAL cloth during the experiment, which is a composite made up of 75% cotton and 25% fiberglass.

Moreover, two additional Saffire experiments are scheduled this year and next year. Since NASA continues to develop safer ways to operate future crewed exploration missions, it will conduct Saffire V in October 2020 and Saffire VI in March 2021.