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Low-Cost Space-Based Cryocoolers


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials, Materials, Sensors, Sensors, Space Platforms, Space Platforms

OBJECTIVE: Develop innovative approaches for producing space-based cryocoolers at low cost and in large numbers.

DESCRIPTION: This topic seeks to develop innovative technologies to reduce the cost per unit for cryocoolers.Some types of infrared detectors must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures in order to perform within specifications, Cryocoolers are the components on a spacecraft that provide this cryogenic cooling.Currently, space-based cryocoolers are custom designed, fabricated, and qualified in low numbers and at great expense (e.g. $3-5M per unit).Production in large quantities, using existing designs and manufacturing technologies, might reduce this cost to less than $1M per unit.Further reductions in cost per unit will require innovative approaches and/or new technologies in both manufacturing processes and cryocooler designs.The objective of this topic is to develop these innovations and/or technologies.Proposed approaches will be considered in the following (decreasing) order of priority:1. Process improvements in order to substantially reduce the cost of manufacturing existing (or slightly modified) cryocooler or subcomponent designs.2. New cryocooler or subcomponent designs that are cheaper and/or easier to manufacture without compromising performance or reliability.3. Innovations related to ancillary equipment such as control electronics or the cryocooler’s mechanical, thermal, and electrical interfaces.4. Other approaches will be considered if they show a clear potential to meet topic objectives.Although a pulse-tube cryocooler appears best suited for space based application(s), any cryocooler type will be considered that shows a clear potential to meet the following objectives:1. Less than $250K per unit (excluding ancillary equipment) at a production rate of 50 units per year.2. At least 5 Watts of cooling at 77 Kelvin with a 300 Kelvin rejection temperature.3. At least 5 years of continuous on-orbit operation with high reliability.4. Approaches, meets, or exceeds the state-of-the-art in terms of performance, efficiency, size, weight, and power, electromagnetic interference, mean-time-to-failure, interfaces, and vibration.These objectives may be adjusted in Phase I in order to increase potential customer demand and prospects for commercialization.

PHASE I: Study the scientific and technical feasibility of the proposed approach.Collaborate with government agencies and industry to develop a common set of requirements in order to increase demand.Conduct research, analyses, and experimentation as needed to demonstrate feasibility and/or validate models.Develop preliminary designs for any new equipment, if applicable.Complete preliminary cost and performance estimates.Complete a preliminary plan for Phase II and begin coordinating with Phase II partners.

PHASE II: Demonstrate the proposed approach in order to validate predictions.Fabricate and test prototype equipment, if applicable.Begin initial qualification of any new designs, if applicable.Finalize the cost and performance estimates based on results.Begin commercialization of the new approach.Seek commitments from multiple potential customers to help fund Phase III.

PHASE III: Commercialize the new approach by supplying subcomponents to cryocooler integrators, by supplying equipment to cryocooler manufacturers, or by manufacturing cryocoolers in-house.Begin producing and delivering products, at a low rate, to customers.Fully qualify the product for the intended application(s).Assist in integrating the product into a demonstrator system.

KEYWORDS: Cryocooler, manufacturing, pulse tube, cryogenic, space


1. R. Radebaugh, “Cryocoolers: the state of the art and recent developments,” J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 21 (2009), 164219.2. R. Radebaugh, “Pulse Tube Cryocoolers for Cooling Infrared Sensors,” Proceedings of SPIE, The International Society for Optical Engineering, Infrared Technology and Applications XXVI, Vol. 4130, pp. 363-379 (2000).3. Proceedings of the 20th International Cryocooler Conference.

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