Lockheed Martin Develops Miniature Cryocooler

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Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif., has developed what the company says is the lightest spacecraft cryocooler ever built.

Cryocoolers operate like refrigerators, using frozen or liquid substances like helium or nitrogen to cool instruments, primarily infrared sensors, that must be kept at extremely cold temperatures to operate properly. In a Dec. 4 press release, Lockheed Martin said it has successfully flown more than 25 cryocoolers in space over the past 40 years, most recently on NASA’s WISE and Gravity Probe-B missions.

The microcryocooler developed at the Advanced Technology Center weighs approximately 311 grams, which Lockheed Martin said is three times less than its predecessor, and is capable of operating for 10 years, according to the press release.

The new system can be used in tactical systems such as unmanned aircraft and tanks in addition to spacecraft, Lockheed Martin said.