NASA recently conducted a new experiment that involved starting a fire inside a spacecraft while in space. The experiment was carried out inside Northrop Grumman's spacecraft after a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The experiment, officially known as Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiments or Saffire, is part of the agency's Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project. The fourth experiment in the project, dubbed as Saffire IV, was conducted aboard the Cygnus spacecraft.

Saffire IV
NASA's Saffire IV experiment. NASA

Starting Fires In Space

Saffire IV was carried out shortly after Cygnus' latest resupply trip to the ISS. After the spacecraft moved to a safe distance from the station, NASA remotely ignited fires inside a special compartment aboard Cygnus. As noted by NASA, the purpose of the experiment is to study how fire behaves in space or microgravity conditions.

In the video released by the agency, the flames can be seen moving slowly as they burn through a cloth known as Solid Inflammatory Boundary at Low Speed (SIBAL), which is a type of fabric that features a combination of cotton and substrate of fiberglass. SIBAL was used in the experiment since it is one of the most common fabrics used in space missions.

Ensuring Mission Safety

According to Gary Ruff, the project manager for Saffire at NASA's Glenn Research Center, understanding how fires behave in space is an important aspect in ensuring astronaut safety during missions. NASA has started ramping up its Saffire experiments due to its current and upcoming crewed missions. Later this month, the agency will send two astronauts to the ISS through the Crew Dragon capsule of its commercial partner SpaceX. Aside from that, the agency is also planning human missions to the Moon and Mars. Through the Saffire experiments, the agency is looking to learn how to effectively prevent and contain fires in space.

"We want to take what we learned from the first three Saffire experiments and see how flames spread and grow in other spacecraft conditions," Ruff said in a statement. "We also loaded Saffire IV with more diagnostic equipment to see how effectively we can detect fires, measure combustion products, and evaluate future fire response and clean up technologies."