Heating and AC isn't Rocket Science. Or is it? - Part 1

Spring is around the corner and here at GAMA Air we are gearing up for a busy season. Is it a hard job? It has its details. But it isn’t rocket science. Or is it? Out of curiosity we decided to look into what kind of central heating and cooling system is used on the International Space Station (ISS). And we realized that what we do when we install or repair a central air system, although not nearly as ‘out-of-this-world’ fascinating, is pretty much the same. 

You already know, from reading some of our previous blog posts, the basics of an air conditioning system. Those principles of operation are similar to what happens on the ISS. Of course, the difference is in the details, but here’s a simplified explanation of what’s going on up there, some 240 miles above the surface of the Earth.

First of all, what temperatures are they dealing with. Our friends and neighbors in the Beverly Hills, Culver City, Mar Vista, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, Downtown Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, Sherman Oaks, Encino area may have an idea of what they consider “extreme” temperatures. But the crew of the ISS deal with real extremes. When the ISS is on the sunny side of the orbit, temperatures can get up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it is on the night side of the orbit, they can plunge to some 200 degrees below zero. Now THAT is extreme. Besides the heat from the sun, there is also excess heat from the operation of the various equipment onboard the ISS.

What about insulation? Your home needs insulation to reduce the costs of heating and cooling. But standard home insulation won’t work in space. Instead of creating an air barrier, such as by using fiberglass that creates tiny pockets of air to minimize heat conduction and convection, the heat has to be reflected. This is accomplished by using a multi-layer reflective insulator. The key component is aluminized Mylar, which is also in blankets used by hunters and campers. The insulation is a key factor in the heating and cooling system, but it isn’t enough to keep things cool.

Your home’s AC unit uses refrigerant to absorb heat from your home and reject it to the outdoor air. The ISS uses a combined system of water and ammonia to do that. Water is an excellent medium for moving heat around. But remember what we said about the temperature extremes in space? Water would freeze easily if exposed to such extreme temperatures. So, an ammonia system is used in radiators that are extended into space from the ISS. Ammonia freezes at almost 108 degrees below zero. This lower range allows the ammonia to reject heat into space from the radiators before coming back into the ISS cooling system. Even though the temperature around the radiators can be 200 degrees below zero, the ammonia can’t reject enough heat to get down to its freezing point.

Obviously, a system that is critical to the well-being of the ISS crew and the equipment has to be maintained. A serious failure could be life-threatening. In comparison to that, your home’s central cooling system isn’t quite that important. However, good maintenance will prevent catastrophic failures that could result in expensive repairs.

Ready to have your AC unit checked out to make sure it’s ready for summer? Call your preferred professional and trusted heating and air service company. If you’re in Beverly Hills, Culver City, Mar Vista, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, Downtown Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, Sherman Oaks, Encino or the nearby area, give GAMA Air a call now at (310) 651-6936, or use our online form to request an inspection and tune-upWe guarantee your satisfaction 100%!

Do you have other questions about your furnace, heat pump, or air conditioner? Visit our Ask an Expert page, fill out the form, and our resident expert will get back to you quickly.

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