Special Coverage

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
Small Robot Has Outstanding Vertical Agility
Smart Optical Material Characterization System and Method
Lightweight, Flexible Thermal Protection System for Fire Protection
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Bacteria Provide Cleanup of Oil Spills, Wastewater

Given the size of our planet and its wealth of resources, it is easy to forget that those resources are finite. As Earth’s human population continues to grow, the questions of how to effectively limit and recycle waste, avoid environmental contamination, and make the most of water and fuel reserves become all the more pressing.

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Sensor Systems Collect Critical Aerodynamics Data

The next time you blow out a candle, watch how the smoke behaves. You will see that it rises first in an even stream. At a certain point, that stream begins to break up into swirls and eddies as the smoke disperses.

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Coatings Extend Life of Engines and Infrastructure

Every time a jet engine is started, it goes through a thermal cycle of extreme temperatures, reaching as high as 2,700 °F within the engine’s combustor. Over time, the expansion and contraction of engine parts caused by this cycle lead to cracking and degradation that shortens an engine’s lifespan and eventually necessitates costly replacement.

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Reflective Coatings Protect People and Animals

Originating Technology/NASA ContributionIn the course of time, circumstance, and coincidence, life sometimes completes some ironic and unlikely circles. During NASA’s early space exploration, a deceptively simple concept allowed scientists and engineers to manage thermal gain. They used highly reflective coated surfaces on ultra-light substrates to reflect infrared energy to effectively and reliably keep operating temperatures in the extremes of space at safe and manageable levels. That reflective insulation technology has kept thousands of satellites; all of NASA’s manned spacecraft, the Hubble Telescope, and most importantly, astronauts, safe and functional. NASA engineers used this technology to reflect infrared energy the way a child learns to redirect a sunbeam with a hand-held mirror. Fast forward to 2009, when a young marine biologist working among the waterways of Florida’s East Coast, almost in the shadows of the iconic launch pad gantry sites at the Kennedy Space Center, employs that same NASA-developed principle that protects astronauts in space to manage the core temperature of one of nature’s most primitive and endangered creatures: the gentle manatee. The chain of events that brought marine biologist Artie Wong and his colleagues to the ideal solution started almost four decades ago, adjacent to these same waterways. On May 14, 1973, Skylab launched into orbit and became a stunning example of what was possible for the Space Program. As the name implies, Skylab served as a space-based laboratory as well as an Earth-observing facility and a home base for three crews of astronauts. While Skylab proved that humans could live and work in outer space for extended periods of time, it also proved that great achievements often come with great challenges. During launch, one of the protective shields on the outside of the spacecraft loosened, causing one solar panel to fall off, and preventing another from deploying. To plan for the spacecraft’s repair, Marshall Space Flight Center led a collaborative effort to start working around the clock. Partnership Over the next 10 days, NASA engineers called upon National Metalizing, of Cranbury, New Jersey, to help create a reflective parasol-type sunshield to deploy on Skylab in place of the protective shield. National Metalizing was a manufacturer of reflective material utilizing a radiant barrier technology originally developed for NASA in the 1950s. In the public domain for the last 30 years, the radiant barrier technology consists of a thin plastic material coated with vaporized aluminum to either deflect or conserve infrared energy. Eleven days after Skylab launched, astronauts launched from a second spacecraft, visited, and deployed a parasol sunshade made with the radiant barrier technology. As for the maker of the material that saved the spacecraft, National Metalizing’s manufacturing capacity was used for industrial coating and lamination applications after the company was sold in the mid-1980s.In 1980, a former director of sales and marketing for the company, David Deigan, founded a new company recently renamed Advanced Flexible Materials (AFM) Inc. Headquartered in Petaluma, California, the company employs the same reflective insulation technology to produce ultra-light, compact travel and stadium blankets; colorfully printed wraps to keep hundreds of thousands of marathon finishers safe from hypothermia each year; a successful line of Heatsheets outdoor products sold in retail stores around the world under the Adventure Medical Kits label; as well as reflective insulating lining fabrics for mittens, vests, and more. In 1996, the radiant barrier technology was inducted into the Space Foundation’s prestigious Space Technology Hall of Fame.Product Outcome Deigan began providing thin plastic blankets made with the radiant barrier technology to keep thousands of runners warm at the 1980 New York City Marathon. Depending on when and where a marathon takes place, temperatures can be cool, and when participants stop running, hypothermia can become a problem. Today, the Heatsheets for running events and triathlons are produced exclusively in an environmentally friendly, recyclable polyethylene form, and reflect up to 97 percent of a person’s radiant heat, providing an envelope of warm air around the body to prevent hypothermia. For nearly two decades, Alice and Bill Wong volunteered at the New York City Marathon, helping to distribute thousands of Heatsheets at the finish line. In 2009, Alice contacted Deigan to see if his company would be willing to donate some of its heat-reflective products for an unusual cause. Her son, Artie, a marine biologist with a non profit club called Save the Manatee Club was searching for a solution to a unique challenge. The club’s members work with the State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to track and document the migration routes of manatees through Florida’s waterways, some of them not far from the Kennedy launch pad gantries on Florida’s East Coast. As a part of the tag-and-release program, the docile sea cows are lifted from the water, checked to record their vital signs, tagged, and then returned to the water. Because these sea mammals are unable to withstand temperatures below 60 °F without slipping into hypothermia, Artie was searching for a more effective way to cover the manatees and conserve their vital body heat. The NASA-derived technology that gave his parents a way to help warm up runners for so many years seemed like the ideal solution. AFM recommended a more suitable solution, and donated a composite material incorporating a soft, non-woven fabric laminated with an encapsulated reflective insulation layer that could withstand the corrosive effects of salt water and could be safely reused for extended periods of time. The finished version of the product has warmed more than 2 million Japanese consumers as an ultra-light, compact blanket; a futon cover; and a travel blanket. Over the past decade, AFM has exported to Japan through its trading partner, D. Nagata Co. Limited. From helping to save Skylab to helping to save the manatees, the NASA-derived technology is sure to continue making a difference in the future, both on Earth and in space. Heatsheets® is a registered trademark of Advanced Flexible Materials Inc.

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Radiometers Optimize Local Weather Prediction

One of the greatest dangers to aircraft—playing a role in numerous destructive and fatal accidents around the world—comes in the form of droplets of water. Clouds are made up of tiny water particles with diameters typically between 10 and 50 microns. In clean air, cloud droplets can exist in liquid form down to temperatures as low as -40 °C. These subfreezing, liquid clouds are referred to as being “supercooled.” As soon as supercooled droplets contact an aircraft ascending or descending through the cloud cover, they form layers of ice on any unprotected surface, including the leading edges of wings and rotor blades, tails, antennas, and within jet engines. This ice accretion can cause engine damage and dramatically affect the aerodynamics of the aircraft. (On the leading edge of a wing, an ice layer about as thick and rough as a piece of coarse sandpaper can be responsible for as much as a 30-percent decrease in lift and a 40-percent increase in drag.) This can lead to reduced performance and even catastrophic loss of control.

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Do-It-Yourself Additives Recharge Auto Air Conditioning

Even though it drops to -279 °F at night and dips to -400 °F inside its deepest craters, the Moon can reach a scorching 260 °F during the day. The range of temperatures is extreme—in part because there is no substantial atmosphere on the Moon to insulate against the heat or cold. What the Moon does have are small amounts of gasses above its surface, sometimes called a lunar atmosphere or exosphere, that consist mostly of hydrogen and helium, along with some neon and argon. On Earth, traces of an atmosphere extend as high as 370 miles above the surface. Made of 78-percent nitrogen and 21-percent oxygen, 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere consists of argon and other gasses—some of which help to trap heat from the Sun and create a greenhouse effect. Without this effect, Earth would probably be too cold for life to exist. Another helpful feature of the Earth’s atmosphere exists about 30 miles above the surface, where ultraviolet light from the Sun strikes oxygen molecules to create a gas called ozone. This ozone blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth.

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Energy-Efficient Systems Eliminate Icing Danger for UAVs

One of the more remarkable developments in aviation in recent years has been the increasing deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Since the invention of the first UAV in 1916, these remotely—or sometimes autonomously—controlled vehicles have become invaluable tools for military reconnaissance and combat, cargo transport, search and rescue, scientific research, and wildfire monitoring. Free from having to accommodate the safety needs and endurance limits of a pilot, UAVs are capable of flying extended missions and venturing into hazardous and remote locations.

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