Testing Out NASA’s Microgap Cooling Technology


Scientists from NASA have created a new technology that can remove potentially damaging heat from extremely small, densely packed electronics. This emerging technology will be demonstrated on spaceflight gear and small devices on an upcoming suborbital flight atop a reusable launch vehicle.

The experiment is due to launch aboard a fully reusable launch vehicle, in order to determine whether the microgap-cooling technology is capable of withstanding the effects of zero gravity. Funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Doctorate’s Flight Opportunities Program, the experiment is a key component in validating the new system. Engineers are confident the new design could prove perfect for cooling high-powered integrated circuits, laser heads, power electronics, and countless other devices.

As the space between components shrinks, it grows increasingly more difficult to remove the associating heat. Any cooling technology used on these devices must be capable of operating under the conditions found in the microgravity environment of space.

Traditionally, in order to remove heat from devices scientists first make a diagram of the layout. The devices that generate heat are kept as far away as possible. The heat moves to a printed circuit board. From there it is transported to a clamp attached to the sidewall of the electronics box, before finally ending up in a box-mounted radiator.

Unfortunately, more conventional cooling methods simply won’t work for 3-D integrated circuitry. Instead of being spread over a circuit board, computer chips in 3-D circuitry are stacked on top of each other. This dramatically reduces the amount of space required, making it extremely attractive to those looking to reduce the size of their devices. However, the unique structure of this circuitry means that not all the chips come into contact with the printed circuit board. Therefore, this method is simply not viable for 3-D circuitry — which is where micogap cooling comes into play.

Microgap cooling takes the heat generated by devices and removes it. This task is accomplished by pouring a coolant through rectangular-shaped channels that are embedded within or in between the heat-generating devices. The experiment will also include ‘flow boiling.’ In flow boiling, the coolant is boiled as it flows through small gaps. Scientists believe this technique will grant a higher rate of heat transfer. This would keep devices cooler for longer, thus drastically reducing the likelihood of overheating.

If the microgap technology passes its first test with flying colors, it’s next step will be even loftier. Scientists will then find an actual application and see how their design hold up in the harsh environment of space.

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