The Modal Propellant Gauging (MPG) experiment has demonstrated sub-1% gauging accuracy under laboratory conditions on both flight hardware and subscale tanks. Recently, MPG was adapted for flight on Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle and has flown twice, achieving equilibrated, zero-g surface configurations of propellant simulant at three different fill fractions. Flight data from MPG missions on New Shepard P7 and P9 show agreement between known and measured propellant levels of 0.3% for the fill fractions investigated in the present study. Two approaches for estimating zero-g propellant mass are described here. Both approaches rely on measuring shifts in modal frequencies of a tank excited by acoustic surface waves and subject to fluid mass loading by the propellant. In the first approach, shifts in the lowest mode frequency (LMF) are measured and associated with liquid fill-level changes. In the second approach, 1-g modal spectra at a range of known fill levels are used in a cross-correlation calculation to predict fill levels associated with a zero-g modal spectrum. Flight data for both approaches are consistent with finite element predictions using a simple fluid–structure interaction model. In both settled and unsettled microgravity environments, MPG meets or exceeds NASA Roadmap goals for in-space propellant mass gauging.

Publication timeframe:
2 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Life Sciences, other, Materials Sciences, Physics