Aluminum air pipes

AFRL, industry launches revolutionary spacecraft technology

KIRTLAND AIR BASE, NM (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory has partnered with ThermAvant Technologies and Maxar Technologies to develop and deploy the next generation of thermal control technology for spacecraft.

The revolutionary technology, Oscillating Heat Pipes (OHP), provides lightweight and highly efficient temperature control on more powerful but smaller spacecraft. The OHP was recently launched in the second quarter of 2021 on a satellite built by Maxar.

“Maxar embraces the most innovative technologies for the benefit of our customers’ missions, and we are proud to support the commercial use of oscillating heat pipes developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and ThermAvant Technologies,” said Chris Johnson, Senior Vice President of Space by Maxar. “This technology has enabled us to provide our customers with an increased ability to meet their desired performance needs. ”

Using OHP instead of an active thermal management subsystem allows the United States Space Force to accomplish its missions at a lower cost.

It should be noted that although the structure of the OHP is static, the fluid oscillates within the micro-channels of the structure, causing heat transfer.

“Oscillating heat pipes have flown in space before, but now OHPs are relied on to serve a mission purpose,” said Jon Allison, head of thermal thrust, for the Spacecraft Component Technology branch of the AFRL space vehicles department. “The in-orbit operation of OHPs marks an important stage in the technological transition. ”

Allison’s colleague Brent Taft has spent more than a decade leading Air Force OHP research, and said he’s thrilled to see OHPs now in use on real-world spacecraft. .

“The success of this transition builds on the efforts of AFRL and ThermAvant to develop and validate an oscillating heat pipe operating limits model,” said Taft. “AFRL tested the first OHP designs as part of the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader (ASETS) microgravity aircraft flight campaign in 2012, and the ASETS-II experiment on OTV-5 (aka X-37B) in 2017. ”

According to AFRL and its industrial partners, OHPs are the future of thermal control of spacecraft.

“At AFRL, we are delighted to have the first operational OHPs flying in space,” said Allison. “I would like to congratulate our Air Force researchers, our entrepreneur ThermAvant and the systems integrator Maxar for their success and unwavering commitment. We look forward to seeing OHPs revolutionize thermal control for the next generation of Space Force satellites. ”

Allison explained that this winding technological development path from military service labs to private industry and back to the military is actually a common approach.

“Every organization plays a role in bringing technology to life,” he said. “The service lab connects the combatant’s needs with technological possibilities, providing the seed that ultimately yields a viable product. Industry is motivated to take risks to bring better products to market, and commercial success proves to the Space Force that new technology is reliable enough to serve the fighter and the nation.

The integration of OHPs on an operational satellite is a big step forward. AFRL believes this represents the start of the fourth generation of thermal control of spacecraft. According to Allison, based on historical trends in this field, he expects this technology to pilot spacecraft architecture over the next 20 years.

“We have seen how each generation heralds a new era in thermal control of spacecraft by introducing revolutionary new technology, Allison said. “The first generation only used thermal conduction, the second generation introduced heat pipes, and the third generation introduced loop heat pipes. The advent of each new generation has allowed for bigger and more powerful spaceships.

Allison believes the time is right for the next generation, and OHPs are the perfect technology to enable future missions.

“We expect OHPs to be the key thermal control technology on satellites from 2020 to 2040,” Allison said. “It is my proposition that the fourth era is defined by oscillating heat pipes, and that the revolution that OHPs allow will not be so much about bigger and more powerful spacecraft, but about smaller and more powerful spacecraft. . ”

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the main scientific research and development center of the Air Force Department. AFRL plays a vital role in the discovery, development and integration of affordable combat technologies for our air, space and cyberspace forces. With a workforce of more than 11,500 people in nine technological fields and 40 operations around the world, AFRL offers a diverse portfolio of sciences and technologies ranging from basic research to advanced research and technological development. For more information visit:

About ThermAvant Technologies

ThermAvant Technologies ™ designs and manufactures high performance thermomechanical structures with Oscillating Heat Pipe (OHP) technology for aerospace, defense and high tech customers. Based in Columbia, Missouri, ThermAvant engineers and technicians provide solutions from its AS9100 and ISO9001 certified facilities. Customers include US agencies, their prime contractors, and optoelectronics companies. For more information visit:

About Maxar Technologies

Maxar is a trusted partner and innovator in Earth intelligence and space infrastructure. We deliver disruptive value to government and business clients to help them monitor, understand and navigate our changing planet; provide global broadband communications; and explore and advance the use of space. Our unique approach combines decades of deep mission understanding and a proven business and defense foundation to deploy solutions and deliver insights with unmatched speed, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. Maxar’s 4,400 team members in more than 20 global locations are inspired to harness the potential of space to help our customers create a better world. Maxar is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange as MAXR. For more information