Scientists to Study How Fire Burns in Space

Saffire I experiment inside Cygnus. (Credit: NASA)

COLUMBIA, Md., June 2, 2017 (USRA PR) — Shortly after the Cygnus cargo vehicle (which launched in March 2017) undocks from the International Space Station on June 4, 2017, a team of researchers from NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) will conduct the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-III (SAFFIRE III).

SAFFIRE III is the third in a series of six flight experiments to better understand how flames spread in microgravity and increase understanding of how an accidental fire might behave in space. “The SAFFIRE portfolio of experiments is providing the best data yet on how large fires behave in the microgravity environment of space,” said Christopher Pestak, Director of USRA operations at NASA GRC.

While the SAFFIRE III experiment is being remotely controlled from the Orbital ATK Control Center in Dulles, VA, the NASA/USRA/CWRU research team will be viewing images and telemetry data in real time at NASA GRC in Cleveland, OH. According to USRA’s Dr. Paul Ferkul, member of the SAFFIRE science team, “SAFFIRE III will provide important data on how air flow speed affects flammability and flame spread in microgravity. It has significant implications both for fundamental understanding of flame spread as well as practical implications for spacecraft fire safety.”

With this knowledge NASA can create the safest environment possible for all astronauts during crewed missions, work toward preventing spacecraft fires, and validate operational protocols for dealing with fire emergencies in space.

The SAFFIRE flight experiments are sponsored by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. In addition, the experiments are also supported by numerous international space agencies, including JAXA, European Space Agency, RSA, CNES, DLR, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The SAFFIRE units are built at NASA GRC with contributions from NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, and the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, NM.

About USRA

Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs, under Federal funding.  USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at

About NASA Glenn Research Center

The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio designs and develops innovative technology to advance NASA’s missions in aeronautics and space exploration. It is focused on researching and testing game-changing technology in propulsion, aeronautics, materials and structures, communications, power and energy storage, and biomedical sciences.