Space Exploration Heats Up: CEAS Alumnus Develops New Heat Pipe to Support Spacecraft

By:    Brandon Pytel
Date: April 3, 2018

CEAS graduate Mohammed Ababneh, PhD, and the team at Advanced Cooling Technologies further space exploration with new heat pipe technology.

Ababneh stands with heat pipe.

Ababneh and the ACT team developed a new heat pipe that more than triples the heat capacity of standard heat pipes in spacecraft.

As humans continue to explore space, their spacecraft require newer technologies. Often times, these new technologies generate more heat, which can be a problem if the structures can’t withstand it. Mohammed Ababneh, PhD, thinks he has found the solution for managing these higher temperatures.

Ababneh, a research development engineer at Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT) and graduate of University of Cincinnati’s (UC) mechanical engineering PhD program, specializes in electronics cooling for space and terrestrial applications.

He worked as the principal investigator of the program and part of a larger ACT team made up of Calin Tarau, PhD, William Anderson, PhD, and Corey Wagner. Jeff Farmer, PhD, technical monitor from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Jesse Fisher from Lockheed Martin also assisted with the tests.

He and the team at ACT created a new high-heat-flux heat pipe that more than triples the existing heat capacity of standard heat pipes used in spacecraft.

“Traditional grooved heat pipes have been a proven technology for spacecraft thermal control for over 40 years,” said Ababneh. “These heat pipes can transfer large amounts of power over long distances, but the maximum heat flux is set by the boiling limit.”

Ababneh and the team’s goal was to create a new heat pipe that can withstand the heat generated by newer electronics systems like CubeSat/SmallSat and high-power laser diode arrays.

To test the capabilities of the recently developed heat pipes, the group teamed up with Lockheed Martin. On top of showing the new heat pipes’ ability to withstand three times the heat of traditional pipes, the tests at ACT and Lockheed Martin showed that these new heat pipes perform efficiently, consistently and reliably and are adaptable to increased temperatures.

“This development represents a revolution in heat pipe technology that addresses the need of more demanding spacecraft performance,” said Ababneh.

Ababneh and Gerner stand next to each other in commencement attire.

Ababneh stands with his adviser, Frank Gerner.

Before ACT, Ababneh gained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jordan University of Science and Technology. He then pursued his PhD in mechanical engineering at UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) where he worked under senior associate dean Frank Gerner, PhD, in the Microscale Heat Transfer Lab.

“Professor Gerner has more than 25 years of experience in heat pipes, microscale heat transfer and electronics cooling,” said Ababneh. “He was not only an academic adviser but also a tremendous source of inspiration.”

At UC, Ababneh worked on several projects in partnership with industry leaders like General Electric and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, including the construction of a flat heat pipe system for use in smart phones and tablets, as well as aircraft and drones. Since then, Ababneh has focused on developing thermal management solutions for spacecraft through his role at ACT.

The new heat pipe technology marks another leap forward for human’s capabilities in space. Said Ababneh, “What we develop in our field will support the future of human and robotic space exploration missions.”