Feasibility study for measurement of insulation compaction in the cryogenic rocket fuel storage tanks at Kennedy Space Center by fast/thermal neutron techniques
The liquid hydrogen and oxygen cryogenic storage tanks at John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) use expanded perlite as thermal insulation. Some of the perlite may have compacted over time, compromising the thermal performance and also the structural integrity of the tanks. Neutrons can readily penetrate through the 1.75 cm outer steel shell and through the entire 120 cm thick perlite zone. Neutrons interactions with materials produce characteristic gamma rays which are then detected. In compacted perlite the count rates in the individual peaks in the gamma ray spectrum will increase. Portable neutron generators can produce neutron simultaneous fluxes in two energy ranges: fast (14 MeV) and thermal (25 meV). Fast neutrons produce gamma rays by inelastic scattering which is sensitive to Si, Al, Fe and O. Thermal neutrons produce gamma rays by radiative capture in prompt gamma neutron activation (PGNA), which is sensitive to Si, Al, Na, K and H among others. The results of computer simulations using the software MCNP and measurements on a test article suggest that the most promising approach would be to operate the system in time-of-flight mode by pulsing the neutron generator and observing the subsequent die away curve in the PGNA signal.