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reverse-brayton coolers
Air Separation
Power Systems



In March 2002, a cryocooler and cryogenic circulator loop that was developed by Creare was installed on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). This cryogenic refrigeration system restored cooling to the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). Within six weeks of its installation on the HST, Creare’s cryocooler had returned the NICMOS detectors to operational temperatures (~75 K), and the first images generated by the renewed device were obtained shortly thereafter.

In early 1997, NASA had approached Creare with an urgent need to develop a vibration-free, long-life mechanical cryocooler to replace the original NICMOS cooling system. The instrument had been cooled by a block of solid nitrogen that had depleted, and a replacement cooling system had to be developed and space qualified in time for the scheduled servicing mission to the HST. After an accelerated development process, Creare’s cryocooler was flight qualified during an 11 day mission aboard STS-95 (Discovery) in October 1998. This successful qualification flight paved the way for installation on the telescope in 2002.

Miniature high-speed turbomachines using gas bearings are a key feature in Creare’s turbo-Brayton cryocoolers. Rotors of 2 to 10 mm diameter rotate at speeds of between 1,000 and 10,000 rev/s on a film of gas to provide long-life operation without wear or vibration. High precision balancing of the low-mass rotors eliminates vibration, and non-contact operation eliminates wear and debris generation. These features were critical factors in NASA’s decision to select Creare’s technology for NICMOS.