Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a fire on the International Space Station?
The International Space Station (ISS) is a habitable artificial satellite that sits in low Earth orbit. It is now the largest artificial body in orbit, often visible by the naked eye. The station has been continuously occupied for 15 years and is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft.
The atmosphere on board the ISS is similar to the Earth’s, this allows the crew and the station’s visitors to live comfortably and is much safer than a pure oxygen atmosphere due to the increased risk of fire that a pure oxygen atmosphere introduces. However, this doesn’t eliminate the risk of fire altogether, the ISS is still susceptible to all the fire risks that are present on Earth.
How Does the ISS Deal With Fire Safety?
There are a number of critical life support systems on board the space station; the water supply system, the food supply facilities, the sanitation and hygiene equipment, and the fire detection and suppression equipment – all necessary apparatus to preserve life on board.
It is vital that in in such a confined space and volatile environment that any event or risk of fire is detected and dealt with quickly and effectively. Evacuation procedures aren’t quite as simple as they are on Earth, and emergency services are non-existent.
Tim Peake, a current ISS crew member, recently took to Facebook to answer questions about fire safety on board the space station.
Since his time on board Tim reports that they have already received a couple of emergency fire warnings, luckily these incidents turned out to be false alarms.
Tim mentions that fires on board the ISS can vary from open fires, smoke, burning smells or just a warning from a smoke detector and that they have procedures to deal with each type of incident, dependant on how serious the situation is.
In the event of a fire the crew put on breathing apparatus and tackle the fire using either water mist, foam or CO2 fire extinguishers. The most common cause of fire onboard the space station is electricity, therefore in the first instance steps are taken to locate the power source, and remove it.
Similar to a lot of premises on Earth it is important that, in the event of a fire, ventilation systems are shut down to reduce the spread of smoke and reduce the feed of oxygen to the fire. Therefore, the fire detection system on board the space station triggers an automatic shutdown of ventilation systems upon detecting a fire.
As well as fire alarm and suppression systems the space station employs gas detectors to warn occupants of any harmful gases present in the air. Tim also reports that they have a number of filters and specialist equipment to “clean and scrub” the atmosphere to return the station to habitable conditions.
If you haven’t already seen it, Tim’s Facebook page makes for an interesting read. He regularly posts images from the International Space Station and answers question similar to “what would happen if there was a real fire on the Station?”.
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