Special Coverage

Converting from Hydraulic Cylinders to Electric Actuators
Automating Optimization and Design Tasks Across Disciplines
Vibration Tables Shake Up Aerospace and Car Testing
Supercomputer Cooling System Uses Refrigerant to Replace Water
Computer Chips Calculate and Store in an Integrated Unit
Electron-to-Photon Communication for Quantum Computing
Mechanoresponsive Healing Polymers
Variable Permeability Magnetometer Systems and Methods for Aerospace Applications
Evaluation Standard for Robotic Research

Propellant Distributor for a Thruster

Innovators at NASA's Glenn Research Center have developed several new technological innovations to improve the capability of Hall-effect thrusters, which are used primarily on Earth-orbiting satellites and can also be used for deep-space robotic vehicles. Hall thrusters are susceptible to discharge channel erosion from high-energy ion impingement, which can reduce operational thruster lifetimes. Glenn researchers have developed several approaches to mitigate this problem. One is a magnetic circuit design that minimizes discharge chamber ion impingement. Another successful improvement developed by Glenn is a means of replacing eroded discharge channel material via a channel wall replacement mechanism. A third innovation is a propellant distributor that provides both a high degree of flow uniformity, and shielding from back-sputtered contamination and other potential contaminants. All of these advances work toward increasing the operational lifetime and efficiency of Hall thrusters.

Posted in: Briefs, Propulsion
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Nanotubular Toughening Inclusions

This technology is used for making stable resin dispersions and composite plastic films, and for standard polymer melt processing.

NASA's Langley Research Center has developed an extensive technology portfolio on novel methods for effective dispersion of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in polymers. The technology portfolio extends from making stable dispersions of CNTs in polymer resins to processes for making composite CNT/polymer films and articles. The technologies apply to a range of polymer types, enable low or high CNT loadings as needed, and can be used with a variety of standard polymer processing methods, including melt processing. Currently, the technology is being used commercially for electrically conductive polymer films for components in electronic printers and copiers.

Posted in: Briefs, Materials
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Floating Ultrasonic Transducer Inspection System and Method for Nondestructive Evaluation

The design allows a probe to easily move over surfaces being inspected without using a liquid couplant.

NASA's Langley Research Center has developed a Floating Ultrasonic System for improved nondestructive testing. Most ultrasonic scanners require an external liquid coupling agent (e.g., water, gel, oil) to make a good contact between the probe and the surface being scanned; however, some surfaces are sensitive to moisture and/or contamination created by these agents. NASA created the Floating Ultrasonic System to address this issue. NASA's technology is based on a momentary touching scheme where a vibrating probe comes in contact with the structure for fractions of a second while performing measurements, giving the probe the appearance of floating across a surface. The design allows for the easy movement of the probe over surfaces being inspected without the use of a liquid couplant between the probe and the surface. Initial test results have also shown NASA's system to have performance comparable to that of liquid-couplant-based ultrasonic scanners.

Posted in: Briefs, Sensors
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Using Sensor Fusion to Analyze Laser Processing in Additive Manufacturing

Sensor: “A device that detects or measures a physical property and records, indicates, or otherwise responds to it.” A sensor is a device that detects a physical quantity and responds by transmitting a signal.

Posted in: Articles, Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Lasers & Laser Systems, Photonics
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Development of Sodium Lidar for Spaceborne Missions

The metal layers at mesospheric altitudes are excellent tracers of neutral atmosphere dynamics, and have been used since the 1960s to study the chemistry and dynamics of the mesosphere. Ablation from meteors is believed to be the chief source of metals such as Na, Mg, K, Fe, and Ca in the middle atmosphere. Due to its relative abundance, large backscatter cross-section, and visible atomic transition, sodium (Na) has been used extensively for lidar studies of the mesosphere.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics
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Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems

The use of modern laser technology has become standard in industrial manufacturing thanks to its speed, accuracy and effectiveness. Lasers are used to engrave parts, electronic printed circuit boards or chip cards. They perforate packaging; structure semiconductor wafers; drill, cut and weld plastics or metals; and create highly complex structures via 3D printing.

Posted in: Articles, Imaging, Machine Vision, Lasers & Laser Systems, Photonics
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Additive-Manufactured, Very Lightweight, Diamond Turned Aspheric Mirror

Industrial-grade, lightweight mirrors used in military and aeronautics have tight specifications brought on by demanding performance parameters. For example, a mirror that is used in an orbiting telescope would have to be extremely lightweight, stiff, and be configured to operate in extreme temperatures. These parameters traditionally work against each other. A material that is stiff is typically heavy, and a mirror that is lightweight and machinable may greatly distort when exposed to extreme heat or cold. Furthermore, materials that fit some of these parameters may not be easily machined to create a mirror, an art that requires high-precision tooling.

Posted in: Briefs, Photonics
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Choosing a Light and Color Measurement System for LEDs

LED-based lighting and display systems are becoming increasingly popular due to their low cost, flexibility, and efficiency. Measuring the light and color output of LEDs is, therefore, becoming more important as their performance is compared to and evaluated against traditional technologies. In addition, inherent performance variations from device to device must be understood and controlled.

Posted in: Application Briefs, Imaging, LEDs, Lighting, Photonics
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3D Imaging Reveals Sub-surface Battery Flaws

Ed Barnard

Traditional imaging technologies have been used to investigate overall solar efficiency, but many of the methods only offer surface views. A new – and “exciting” – ultra-fast laser technique developed at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides a deeper look and maps a solar cell in three dimensions.

Posted in: Articles, Imaging, Photonics
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Autonomous Vehicles Open Up New Roads for LIDAR Growth

Laser range-finding, or LIDAR, is a way of measuring distance, directly analogous to radar except using radiation in the near infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum rather than the radio waves used in radar. LIDAR techniques are used for a variety of final applications including terrain-mapping for geology, urban planning and archaeology; distance measurement for surveying, golf, hunting, military applications, and docking of large ships; and speed measurement for traffic monitoring and speed limit enforcement.

Posted in: Articles, Imaging, Lasers & Laser Systems, Photonics
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