Ozmat’s cool solution to a hot landing on the Red Planet
The Enterprise — Lisa Nicole Viers
Burhan Ozmat sits at his desk in the office of his New Scotland home. Ozmat recently created an integral piece of a craft that will be traveling to Mars in 2016. The mechanical engineer made his device, which will cool the craft as it falls onto the Martian surface, in the basement of his house, the living room of which holds a white couch and drum set.
NEW SCOTLAND — Burhan Ozmat sits on a small 1960s-style pedestal swivel chair in his office, holding what looks like a silver dish scrubber near his face and blowing through it.
The small rectangle isn’t silver, however; it’s aluminum. And it isn’t a dish scrubber; it’s a thermal capacitor that will be taking a 10-month journey to Mars in 2016.
Well, not that precise one, but several thermal capacitors of the exact size and specifications needed to make the landing of the ExoMars craft a success.
Ozmat boasts, and perhaps rightly so, that the European Space Agency and Russian Federal Space Agency approached him, living in what he calls “quiet little Voorheesville,” to design, test, and make an integral cooling component of the Entry, Descent, and Landing Demonstrator Module for the ExoMars mission.
His cozy home is a long way from Mars to be sure, but it is also far from Istanbul, where Ozmat was born. He completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees, both in mechanical engineering, at the Technical University of Istanbul before coming to the United States to continue his studies.
Ozmat earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984; his diploma is displayed in a frame on a wall of his office near the windows that look out over his wooded backyard.
About a third of the office floor is covered in plastic crates filled with manila folders; inset bookshelves line the walls, bursting with large volumes.
Organic chemistry, machine design, heat transfer — these are just a few of the subjects these volumes cover.
His wooden desk is laden with two Dell desktop computer monitors, and a Dell laptop that is at least two inches thick sits on a smaller desk against a stone-covered wall. A small shelf holds CDs and a stack of floppy disks, artifacts of technology, a subject Ozmat has been familiar with for many years.
Ozmat worked at IBM in Hopewell Junction, south of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. from 1984 to 1987.
For the next 16 years, Ozmat joined teams of engineers at Texas Instruments, Harris Power Research and Development Center, and General Electric.
He spent two years at GE in Niskayuna before the company dissolved its power electronics packaging and reliability department, of which Ozmat was a part. The department used mechanical engineering to get heat out of electronics, particularly “miniaturized advanced electronics, which is where the world is going,” Ozmat said.
After the department was no more, many of Ozmat’s coworkers got shuffled around, and he spent about four months fixing laundry machines, refrigerators, and other appliances for the company.
Soon, he realized this wasn’t for him, and he created his own company where he could pursue the projects that interested him. In 2000, he formed OZER Advanced Technologies, which he runs out of his basement laboratory.
It is in this lab that Ozmat spent years making and testing different variations on the devices that will keep the electrical components of the module cool as it hurtles down through the Martian atmosphere for 90 minutes, “including the crash-landing” on the planet’s surface, Ozmat said.
If the electrical components within the module get too warm, they may malfunction, rendering millions of dollars, Euros, and rubles worth of equipment useless.
Ozmat blows through the aluminum rectangle, perforated with hundreds to thousands of tiny holes, to display its capacity for air flow, which is a common cooling technique.
However, with no air in space, the job of cooling the module parts gets tricky.
Rather than using an active form of cooling, such as blowing air or circulating water, Ozmat had to come up with a passive way to keep the temperature of the craft down — namely, by coming up with something to absorb the energy.
Aluminum is very good at conducting or transferring energy, Ozmat said, but isn’t very good at absorbing it. After what Ozmat described as “about 25 years of playing,” he came up with a solution.
After the thermal capacitors are made through a process involving plastic molds and molten aluminum, they are filled with wax, which Ozmat found to be an excellent material for absorbing energy, and therefore heat, from the module components.
After the aluminum cast is made, liquid wax is poured into it, filling all the nooks and crannies that make up the perforations in the aluminum. The wax then hardens, and when it is exposed to heat during the descent of the lander, it will melt as it absorbs energy from the myriad pieces of technology contained within the module.
These technological apparatuses will be used to study the atmospheric conditions the module endures during the entire landing, as well as to gather data on wind speed and direction, humidity, pressure, surface temperature, and other characteristics of the atmospheric environment on the surface of Mars.
The information gathered by the module will be used to help determine if life ever existed on the Red Planet, and the tools of the module itself are steps towards creating technology for future Mars missions.
Additionally, the ExoMars mission will land a rover on Mars in 2018. The rover will sample the geology of Earth’s sister planet, map the terrain, and test for any organic compounds that may be found in the Martian rocks and dirt.
Ozmat is proud to be part of the project, contributing “a very valuable item that’s part of a historical system,” he said of the ExoMars landing module.
He mentioned several times that he doesn’t make a lot of money in his field, but his point of interest about his life settles on the journey here.
“I came to a point of regret many times,” he said. “Life makes a lot of sense backwards, but we have to live it forwards.”