The Air Force and Creare, a small, New Hampshire-based business, developed a two-stage turbo-Brayton cryocooler that is expected to enhance operation of space-based infrared detectors.
The resulting technology responds to Air Force requirements for improvements in performance of electro-optical space payloads by improving components of the cryocooling system.
Managed by personnel at the Air Force Research Laboratory, the multi-phase Small Business Innovation Research program resulted in turbo-machine-based Brayton cryocoolers, which are ideal candidates for space-based infrared detectors because they are highly efficient, lightweight, vibration-free, multi-stage compatible and have long maintenance-free lifetimes.
“Providing extremely low temperature refrigeration is a requirement of certain infrared detectors,” said Thomas Fraser, the Air Force program manager. “The method developed during this program is a very efficient method of refrigeration using miniature turbines spinning at thousands of revolutions per second.
“This technology offers a long lifetime through use of advanced, non-contact bearing technology and we expect it to support long, 10 or more year orbit lifespans,” Fraser added. “It can also provide cooling at a distance from the compressor and does not impart vibration to the focal plane array, which are limiting factors in other cryocooler products and types.”
During the course of the program, Creare developed the state-of-the-art components needed to create turbo-Brayton cryocoolers and integrated the components to form a two-stage cryocooler that provides refrigeration in the 10 to 20 Kelvin temperature range (10 to 20K is equivalent to -423 to -442 Fahrenheit). During the first phase of the program, Creare obtained key operational and performance data for the cold stage turboalternator. During the second phase of the project, they assembled a brassboard cryocooler, measured its performance at cold-load temperatures (around 10 K), and used the results in development of a preliminary design for a fully-optimized cryocooler.
In the past, Creare has successfully commercialized technology resulting from their SBIR efforts. They commercialize the technology internally via sales of custom or specialized hardware and software and engineering services contracts, as well as externally through creation of spin-off organization and licensing of technology to third parties. To date, Creare and its spinoffs trace $735 million in revenues as a result of SBIR projects.
The Air Force’s SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development through small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. It focuses on projects with the potential to develop into a product for defense or commercial markets. Congress also established the Small Business Technology Transfer Program in 1992. It is similar in structure to SBIR and funds cooperative research and development projects with small businesses in partnership with not-for profit research institutions (such as universities) to move research to the marketplace. For more information about these programs, including commercialization readiness assistance for existing contracts, please call the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Office at 1-800-222-0336, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.afsbirsttr.com.