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Thermal and Compressed-Air Storage System Provides Alternative to UPS Batteries

Three mature energy-storage technologies are combined in a new system to replace lead-acid batteries. Virtually all businesses and industries are vulnerable to electric power disturbances such as outages, sags, swells, and harmonics. These problems are less of an issue for data centers, protected behind their walls of Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems. But the typical battery-backed UPS is too fragile for use in less protected environments. UPS batteries must be maintained in a narrow temperature range and fail prematurely when subjected to a steady diet of step loads and motor drives. About six years ago, flywheel-based UPS products became commercially available. These devices store energy as rotational inertia, and are rugged enough to survive on the factory floor. However, flywheels have relatively short ride-through energy and are best-suited for use in locations with backup generators.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Stability-Augmentation Devices for Miniature Aircraft

Passive mechanical devices help miniature aircraft fly in adverse weather. Non-aerodynamic mechanical devices are under consideration as means to augment the stability of miniature autonomous and remotely controlled aircraft. Such aircraft can be used for diverse purposes, including military reconnaissance, radio communications, and safety-related monitoring of wide areas. The need for stability-augmentation devices arises because adverse meteorological conditions generally affect smaller aircraft more strongly than they affect larger aircraft: Miniature aircraft often become uncontrollable under conditions that would not be considered severe enough to warrant grounding of larger aircraft. The need for the stability augmentation devices to be non-aerodynamic arises because there is no known way to create controlled aerodynamic forces sufficient to counteract the uncontrollable meteorological forces on miniature aircraft.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Tool Measures Depths of Defects on a Case Tang Joint

Precise measurements can be made consistently. A special-purpose tool has been developed for measuring the depths of defects on an O-ring seal surface. The surface lies in a specially shaped ringlike fitting, called a “capture feature tang,” located on an end of a cylindrical segment of a case that contains a solid-fuel booster rocket motor for launching a space shuttle. The capture feature tang is a part of a tang-and-clevis, O-ring joint between the case segment and a similar, adjacent cylindrical case segment. When the segments are joined, the tang makes an interference fit with the clevis and squeezes the O-ring at the side of the gap.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Lifting Mechanism for the Mars Explorer Rover

A report discusses the design of a rover lift mechanism (RLM) — a major subsystem of each of the Mars Exploration Rover vehicles, which were landed on Mars in January 2004. The RLM had to satisfy requirements to (1) be foldable as part of an extremely dense packing arrangement and (2) be capable of unfolding itself in a complex, multistep process for disengaging the rover from its restraints in the lander, lifting the main body of the rover off its landing platform, and placing the rover wheels on the platform in preparation for driving the rover off the platform. There was also an overriding requirement to minimize the overall mass of the rover and lander. To satisfy the combination of these and other requirements, it was necessary to formulate an extremely complex design that integrated components and functions of the RLM with those of a rocker-bogie suspension system, the aspects of which have been described in several prior NASA Tech Briefs articles. In this design, suspension components also serve as parts of a 4- bar linkage in the RLM.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Alignment Stage for a Cryogenic Dilatometer

A low-friction, low-thermal-expansion kinematic design affords stability and precise adjustability. A three degree of freedom alignment stage has been designed and built for use in a cryogenic dilatometer that is used to measure thermal strains. The alignment stage enables precise adjustments of the positions and orientations of optical components to be used in the measurements and, once adjustments have been completed, keeps the components precisely aligned during cryogenic dilatometer operations that can last as long as several days.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Rugged Iris Mechanism

Advantages include capability for full obscuration, low friction, and general adaptability of design. A rugged iris mechanism has been designed to satisfy several special requirements, including a wide aperture in the “open” position, full obscuration in the “closed” position, ability to function in a cryogenic or other harsh environment, and minimization of friction through minimization of the number of components. An important element of the lowfriction aspect of the design is maximization of the flatness of, and provision of small gaps between, adjacent iris blades. The tolerances of the design can be very loose, accommodating thermal expansions and contractions associated with large temperature excursions. The design is generic in that it is adaptable to a wide range of aperture sizes and can be implemented in a variety of materials to suit the thermal, optical, and mechanical requirements of various applications.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Rotating Desk for Collaboration by Two Computer Programmers

Two programmers can work together or alternately with minimal stress. A special-purpose desk has been designed to facilitate collaboration by two computer programmers sharing one desktop computer or computer terminal. The impetus for the design is a trend toward what is known in the software industry as extreme programming — an approach intended to ensure high quality without sacrificing the quantity of computer code produced. Programmers working in pairs is a major feature of extreme programming.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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