Rhode Island Patent of the Month – February 2022

Smart valves are used to autonomously control flow, adapting to changes in fluid pressure and adjusting the motor controls as the situation warrants. These valves are usually very large, heavy, and cumbersome as their motors must be powerful enough to operate the valve. One other actuation system uses pyrotechnic valves and electro-explosive devices (EED). These are one-time use propulsion components which are best suited for spacecraft applications. Systems Engineering Associates Corporation (SEACORP) has designed a third option, utilizing inflator-based actuation which overcomes these one-time limitations in a system smaller than a smart valve.

This inflator-based actuator uses automotive air bag inflators. The inflators can be activated using gases which act on a piston. After receiving an activation signal, a series of gas generators begins to generate and direct gas to the pistons. The pistons then can operate the actuation system. This allows the actuation to be activated as often as needed and is safer than EED systems in pyrovalves. 

SEACORP has spent 20 years developing a family of these inflator-based actuators which can be used to then launch unmanned aerial vehicles. The reliability and long shelf life (over 15 years) of COTS airbag inflators makes it possible for the development of modular payload launching systems, completely self-contained in a combination shipping container/launch canister. This “All-Up-Round” concept allows for relatively simple mounting to ships, vehicles, or aircraft, and electrical connection to an appropriate fire control system.

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