Spacecraft thermal control systems are essential to provide the necessary thermal environment for the crew and to ensure that the equipment functions adequately on space missions. The Ultralight Fabric Reflux Tube (UFRT) was developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a lightweight radiator concept to be used on planetary surface-type missions (e.g., Moon, Mars). The UFRT consists of a thin-walled tube (acting as the fluid boundary), overwrapped with a low-mass ceramic fabric (acting as the primary pressure boundary). The tubes are placed in an array in the vertical position with the evaporators at the lower end. Heat is added to the evaporators, which vaporizes the working fluid. The vapor travels to the condenser end section and condenses on the inner wall of the thin-walled tube. The resulting latent heat is radiated to the environment. The fluid condensed on the tube wall is then returned to the evaporator by gravity.
Five UFRTs were tested in a thermal/vacuum chamber in September 1994. The UFRT test showed that in a wicked UFRT, an evaporator to condenser surface temperature difference of 35 °C can be obtained at 48 W of heat rejection at various simulated lunar thermal environments. The UFRTs also performed successfully in the full solar and frozen startup cases. In addition, an in-house trade study showed that an optimized/improved UFRT could achieve as much as a 25% mass savings in the heat rejection subsystem of future planetary-type thermal control systems.