Explosive-free valve design wins Space Propulsion Innovation Award

A new, safer and pyrotechnic-free design for space valves from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s Design and Prototyping Group has won the UK Space Agency’s UK Space Propulsion Innovation Award.

Sam Hyde and Valdis Krumins beat 14 finalists from leading space science companies, design agencies and university research centres with their new design for permanent valves – valves on a space craft that operate only once during a mission, after which they remain open or closed.

Currently, standard valves use a pyrotechnic activator consisting of a small explosive charge to open or close valves permanently. However, firing creates gases, particles, shocks and vibrations, which can break welds and causing a satellite or rocket to be damaged.

Valdis Krumins, left, and Sam Hyde, from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s Design and Prototyping Group, who have won a top innovation award after radically rethinking the way spacecraft valves work
Valdis Krumins, left, and Sam Hyde, from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s Design and Prototyping Group, who have won a top innovation award after radically rethinking the way spacecraft valves work

The pair replaced the moving cylinder of the old valve with a tapered cone and replaced the explosives with a simple spring, which is compressed and secured by a piezoelectric trigger.

When a current flows through the trigger, it releases the spring, which pushes the valve into its new, permanent position.

The trigger returns to its original position when the current is switched off and then prevents the valve from moving back.

Valdis Krumins, project engineer (design) at AMRC’s Design and Prototyping Group said: “The shape of the piston in a pyro valve is usually cylindrical and it has O-rings on it to create a better seal. While designing the permanent valve we realised that there is a mature solution in medical sector, which does somewhat similar task – a Luer slip connector that is used to secure a needle on a syringe.

“Luer slip creates a good seal between two tapered surfaces and does not require O-rings. It is a simpler solution and has a larger contact surface area, which potentially creates a better seal.

“Our concept is simpler and safer to assemble when compared to existing pyro valves which house a small charge of explosives. It is scalable and can be used in almost any application in which there is a need for a valve which has to open or close permanently.”

The pair plan to use their £10,000 prize money to conduct a desktop study and to build a partial technical demonstrator for testing the critical parts of the concept.