$750,000 NASA grant funds innovation in thermal and water management systems


Efficient and compact cooling and water management systems are critical to human exploration of space.

Two mechanical engineers at Wichita State University are researching ways to improve cooling efficiency and water recycling systems by developing a new device that affects water liquid-to-vapor changes.

NASA has awarded a $750,000 grant to a research effort led by Wichita State University’s Gisuk Hwang and Rajeev Nair, assistant professors in mechanical engineering, to develop more efficient and compact thermal and water management systems.

WSU, along with Kansas State University and University of Kansas, are providing a $380,000 grant match, underwriting faculty and student research time and laboratory use.

“This research supports advanced cooling, life support and habitat systems for next-generation space technologies by establishing research infrastructures in thermo-fluid sciences, manufacturing and advanced diagnostics,” Hwang said.

The research also has earth-bound applications for Kansas, including clean energy production, advanced manufacturing and food industries.

Specifically, Hwang and Nair are developing a new capillary structure produced by a process called laser-based sintering – a kind of 3-D printing that can use computer-generated drawings to produce parts with minute detail. These capillary structures could improve thermal and water management systems in spacecraft, satellites, spacesuits and space habitats by better controlling water liquid-to-vapor phase changes.

The research is also being conducted in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Glenn Research Center, and industry partner WireCo Inc.

The grant will also support engineering outreach activities at the partner universities as well as the Kansas Cosmosphere, a NASA science museum in Hutchinson to promote next-generation STEM education.