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Astronauts to Test Free-Flying Robotic 'Smart SPHERES'

Three bowling ball-size free-flying Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) have been flying inside the International Space Station since 2006. These satellites provide a test bed for development and research, each having its own power, propulsion, computer, navigation equipment, and physical and electrical connections for hardware and sensors for various experiments.Aboard Orbital Sciences Corp.'s second contracted commercial resupply mission to the space station, which arrived to the orbital laboratory on July 16, NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, sent two Google prototype Project Tango smartphones that astronauts will attach to the SPHERES for technology demonstrations inside the space station. By connecting a smartphone to the SPHERES, the technology becomes "Smart SPHERES, " a more "intelligent" free-flying robot with built-in cameras to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, powerful computing units to make calculations and Wi-Fi connections to transfer data in real time to the computers aboard the space station and at mission control in Houston.In a two-phase experiment, astronauts will manually use the smartphones to collect visual data using the integrated custom 3-D sensor to generate a full 3-D model of their environment. After the map and its coordinate system are developed, a second activity will involve the smartphones attached to the SPHERES, becoming the free-flying Smart SPHERES. As the free-flying robots move around the space station from waypoint to waypoint, utilizing the 3-D map, they will provide situational awareness to crewmembers inside the station and flight controllers in mission control. These experiments allow NASA to test vision-based navigation in a very small mobile product.SourceAlso: Learn about Automatic Lunar Rock Detection and Mapping.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Power Management, PCs/Portable Computers, Cameras, Video, Visualization Software, Imaging, Sensors, Test & Measurement, Communications, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, RF & Microwave Electronics, News

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Hurricane-Tracking Unmanned Systems Win NASA Challenge

NASA has selected three winning designs solicited to address the technological limitations of the uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) currently used to track and collect data on hurricanes. Engineering teams at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Purdue University, and the University of Virginia were named first- through third-place winners, respectively, of the agency's 2013-2014 University Aeronautics Engineering Design Challenge.

Posted in: Alternative Fuels, Environmental Monitoring, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Monitoring, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, Data Acquisition, News

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Agile Aperture Antenna Tested on Aircraft to Maintain Satellite Connection

Two of Georgia Tech's software-defined, electronically reconfigurable Agile Aperture Antennas (A3) were demonstrated in an aircraft during flight tests. The low-power devices can change beam directions in a thousandth of a second. One device, looking up, maintained a satellite data connection as the aircraft changed headings, banked and rolled, while the other antenna looked down to track electromagnetic emitters on the ground.

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Electronic Components, Board-Level Electronics, Electronics, Power Management, Software, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Communications, Wireless, Aerospace, Aviation, RF & Microwave Electronics, Antennas, News

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New Study Uses Blizzard to Measure Wind Turbine Airflow

A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota using snow during a Minnesota blizzard is giving researchers new insight into the airflow around large wind turbines. This research is essential to improving wind energy efficiency, especially in wind farms where airflows from many large wind turbines interact with each other. As wind turbines have grown to more than 100 meters tall, field research in real-world settings has become more difficult.

Posted in: Video, Visualization Software, Imaging, Photonics, Optics, Wind Power, Energy Efficiency, Energy, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, News

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NASA Completes Successful Test of Saucer-Shaped Vehicle for Mars Missions

NASA completed a near-space test flight of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), developed to evaluate new landing technologies for future Mars missions. While this initial test was designed to determine the flying ability of the vehicle, it also deployed two new landing technologies as a bonus. Those landing technologies will be officially tested in the next two flights, involving clones of the saucer-shaped vehicle.

Posted in: Test & Measurement, Aerospace, Aviation, Machinery & Automation, News

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Gas Flow Measurement Technology Packs Hundreds of Sensors Into One Optical Fiber

By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 °C. This technology is expected to find industrial sensing applications in harsh environments ranging from deep geothermal drill cores to the interiors of nuclear reactors to the cold vacuum of space missions, and it may eventually be extended to many others.

Posted in: Photonics, Fiber Optics, Optics, Sensors, Detectors, Geothermal Power, Energy, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, News

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NASA’s High-Flying Laser Altimeter Measures Summer Sea Ice

When NASA launches the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, in 2017, it will measure Earth’s elevation by sending out pulses of green laser light and timing how long it takes individual photons to bounce off Earth’s surface and return. The number and patterns of photons that come back depend on the type of ice they bounce off – whether it’s smooth or rough, watery or snow-covered.To get a preview of what summertime will look like to ICESat-2, NASA scientists, engineers, and pilots have traveled to Fairbanks, Alaska, to fly an airborne test bed instrument called the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar, or MABEL. MABEL collects data in the same way that ICESat-2’s instrument will – with lasers and photon-detectors. The data from the Alaskan campaign will allow researchers to develop computer programs, or algorithms, to analyze the information from ICESat-2.“We need to give scientists data to enable them to develop algorithms that work during summer,” said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All the algorithms need to be tested and in place by the time of launch. And one thing that was missing was ICESat-2-like data on the summer conditions.”Between July 12 and August 1, MABEL will fly aboard NASA’s high-altitude ER-2 aircraft as the Arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting. In its half-dozen flights, the instrument will take measurements of the sea ice and Alaska’s southern glaciers, as well as forests, lakes, open ocean, the atmosphere and more, sending data back to researchers on the ground.SourceAlso: Learn about the Debris & ICE Mapping Analysis Tool (DIMAT).

Posted in: Electronics & Computers, Photonics, Lasers & Laser Systems, Environmental Monitoring, Green Design & Manufacturing, Test & Measurement, Measuring Instruments, Aerospace, Aviation, RF & Microwave Electronics, Data Acquisition, News

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