The Department of Mechanical Engineering at Toyohashi University of Technology has developed an inside-out fire extinguisher for use inside spacecraft. Instead of spraying out extinguishing agents at a fire, the Vacuum Extinguish Method (VEM) sucks the flames and burning materials into a vacuum chamber, where they can be safely suffocated or extinguished.

Fire is one of the most frightening emergencies that can happen aboard a manned spacecraft, submarine, or other enclosed, special environments. Not only can one be about as deadly as a fire can get, but combating it is extremely difficult, not only because of the heat and smoke given off, but because the extinguishing agents can be almost as dangerous in an enclosed space.

This is the reason why firefighting teams aboard submarines and the International Space Station need to don oxygen masks before dealing with the fire. Even if the agent used is as innocuous as carbon dioxide, the crew can still suffocate without breathing apparatus. Even water in a weightless environment can be hazardous.

Developed in collaboration with Hokkaido and Shinshu Universities, VEM addresses the problem of extinguishing agents by reversing how the extinguisher works. Not only does it reduce breathing hazards, it also speeds up response times by eliminating the need to put on oxygen masks.

VEM works by means of a suction system to pull the flame or combustion materials into a vacuum chamber. There the flame would either go out for lack of air or extinguishing agents could be introduced without contaminating the living environment.

According to research leader Yuji Nakamura, VEM is simple in concept and a test version has already been developed that uses a controlled vacuum introduced under strict monitoring for evaluation purposes. The system has yet to be adopted by any space agencies, but the team sees it has having a variety of applications, including fighting metal powder fires or ones in operating theaters or clean rooms where the firefighting can cause as much damage as the fire.

The research was published in Fire Technology.

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