Press Release

Boeing Brings Space Technology Down to Earth to Make Hydrogen Fuel Safer

By SpaceRef Editor
May 24, 2001
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Boeing Co. successfully demonstrated new technology that
could increase safety for rockets as well as hydrogen-fuel automobiles
being developed by car makers.

Working in partnership with researchers from Intelligent Optical
Systems, Torrance, Calif., Boeing scientists tested a fiber-optic
hydrogen leak detection system in a real-world environment.

Dr. Alex Kazemi, a leading micro-technologist and a top-flight
team of rocket scientists, engineers and technical and manufacturing
specialists developed this new fiber-optic hydrogen detection system
in Huntington Beach.

“While the new system is designed to greatly improve the ability
to detect explosive hydrogen vapors on space launch vehicles, it can
also bring benefits to other industries including the automotive
sector where car makers are developing clean-burning, hydrogen-fuel
automobiles,” Kazemi said.

The successful demonstration occurred during a static hot fire
test of the Delta IV common booster core (CBC) on April 23, 2001, at
NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The system detects hydrogen and then relays the information at the
speed of light for quick analysis by computer.

The safety, speed and increased capability of the new Boeing
system comes from spark-free, fiber-optic cables and special sensors.
The system is capable of measuring hundreds of locations at once.
Current devices, called mass spectrometers, are capable of measuring
only a handful of locations.

“Leak detection of hydrogen at very low levels is very important
to the fuel cell industries as well as chemical industries,” said Dr.
Surya Prakash, Olah Nobel Laureate Chair Professor of Hydrocarbon
Chemistry at University of Southern California

The system uses an optical sensor called an optrode coated with a
proprietary chemical substance. Light is sent down the fiber-optic
cable and through the optrode. If the light returns as a different
color, that color, along with the intensity of the signal, correlates
to amounts of hydrogen present.

If safe levels are exceeded, a rocket launch can be stopped
immediately with the leak quickly pinpointed. Conversely, false alarms
can be prevented in the last seconds of countdown because the system
responds with great precision in only one second versus two to six
minutes for a mass spectrometer.

This new system can be used on all Delta rockets, commercial and
military launch vehicles, Sea Launch, Space Shuttle and any emerging
reusable launch vehicles.

The Boeing Co., with headquarters in Seattle, is the largest
aerospace company in the world and the United States’ leading exporter.
It is the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and
military aircraft, and the largest NASA contractor. The company’s
capabilities in aerospace also include rotorcraft, electronic and
defense systems, missiles, rocket engines, launch vehicles, and
advanced information and communication systems. The company has an
extensive global reach with customers in 145 countries and
manufacturing operations throughout the United States, Canada and

SpaceRef staff editor.