News

NASA Demonstrates Aircraft Electric Propulsion

NASA’s Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech) project will test the premise that tighter propulsion-airframe integration, made possible with electric power, will deliver improved efficiency and safety, as well as environmental and economic benefits. NASA researchers will perform ground testing of a 31-foot-span, carbon composite wing section with 18 electric motors powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries. The experimental wing, called the Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST), is mounted on a specially modified truck. Testing on the mobile ground rig assembly will provide valuable data and risk reduction applicable to future flight research. Researchers hope to fly a piloted X-plane within the next couple years after removing the wings and engines and replacing them with an improved version of the LEAPTech wing and motors. Each motor can be operated independently at different speeds for optimized performance. Key potential benefits of LEAPTech include decreased reliance on fossil fuels, improved aircraft performance and ride quality, and aircraft noise reduction. Source:

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Second, Smaller Rotor Increases Wind Turbine Efficiency

Large wind turbine blades disturb the wind, creating a wake behind them and reducing the energy harvest of any downwind turbines. A turbine sitting in the slipstream of another can lose 8 to 40 percent of its energy production, depending on conditions. By adding a smaller, secondary rotor mounted mounted in front of the big rotor, the two sets of blades are separated by the nacelle that houses the generating machinery on top of the tower. The extra blades can increase a wind farm’s energy harvest by 18 percent. Researchers are using advanced computer simulations, including high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics analysis and large eddy simulations, to find the best aerodynamic design for a dual-rotor turbine. Where, for example, should the second rotor be located? How big should it be? What kind of airfoil should it have? Should it rotate in the same direction as the main rotor or in the opposite direction? Source:

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Orion's Launch Abort System Motor Exceeds Expectations

NASA has tested the attitude control motor of the Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) to prove that its material can survive not only the intense temperatures, pressures, noise, and vibrations experienced during a launch emergency, but also 40 percent beyond. The LAS is being designed to bring a crew to safety should there be a problem in the launch pad or during ascent. Built by Orbital ATK, the motor consists of a solid propellant gas generator with eight proportional valves equally spaced around the outside of the three-foot-diameter motor. Together, the valves can exert up to 7,000 pounds of steering force to the vehicle in any direction upon command from the Orion. The motor would be used to keep the LAS, with the crew module, on a controlled flight path if it needed to jettison and steer away from the launch vehicle in an emergency. It also reorients the module for parachute deployment and landing.  Source:

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Researchers Turn Packing Peanuts into Battery Parts

While setting up their new lab, Purdue University researchers ended up with piles of packing peanuts. Professor Vilas Pol suggested an environmentally friendly way to reuse the waste.The team converted their lab's extra packing peanuts into high-performance carbon electrodes for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The batteries outperform conventional graphite electrodes. Carbon-nanoparticle and microsheet anodes were built from polystyrene and starch-based packing peanuts, respectively.Packing peanuts, though valuable for shipping, are difficult to break down and often end up in landfills. The polystyrene peanuts also contain chemicals and detergents that can contaminate soil and aquatic ecosystems.With the Purdue method, the peanuts are heated between 500 and 900 degrees Celsius in a furnace under inert atmosphere, and in the presence or absence of a transition metal salt catalyst. The resulting material is then processed into the anodes.Commercial anode particles are about 10 times thicker than the new anodes and have higher electrical resistance, which increase charging time. The Purdue method is potentially practical for large-scale manufacturing."In our case, if we are lithiating this material during the charging of a battery it has to travel only 1 micrometer distance, so you can charge and discharge a battery faster than your commercially available material," Pol said.Future work will include steps to potentially improve performance by increasing the surface area and pore size to improve the electrochemical performance.SourceAlso: Learn about an Optical Fiber for Solar Cells.

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Will self-driving cars be ready for the road this summer?

This week's Question: Last week, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, said that the electric car maker would introduce autonomous technology, an autopilot mode, by this summer; the technology will allow drivers to have their vehicles take control on major roads and highways. The CEO also announced that a software update for the Model S will be rolled out in 90 days and give Tesla owners new safety features, including automatic emergency braking and blind-spot and side-collision warnings. Some industry experts, however, are skeptical that such autonomous driving is legal and meets current regulations. Although some states have passed laws legalizing autonomous vehicles, those laws address the testing of driverless cars, not their use by consumers. What do you think?

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Self-Powered Sensors Communicate Building Defects

Michigan State University researchers have developed a technology that allows sensing, communication, and diagnostic computing — all within the building material of a structure. Using energy harvested from the structure itself, the "substrate computing" system features sensors that continuously monitor and report on the building's integrity.“Adoption of such monitoring has previously been limited because of the frequency of battery replacement for battery-powered sensors,” said Subir Biswas, professor of electrical and computer engineering, “as well as the need for a separate communication subsystem usually involving radio frequency sensor networks.”In the future, the technology will be routinely used in building materials so that structures, such as bridges, will be able to detect and diagnose potential problems, without the need for an external energy source and a separate wireless sensor network. The researchers' goal is to integrate all of the functions within a 3 x 3-millimeter electronic chip, which can be embedded within the material of a structure. Source Also: Read other Sensors tech briefs.

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Quantum Radar Detects “Invisible” Objects

A prototype quantum radar has the potential to detect objects that are invisible to conventional systems. The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity, such as cancer cells or aircraft, with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans. A conventional radar antenna emits a microwave to scan a region of space. Any target object would reflect the signal to the source, but objects of low reflectivity immersed in regions with high background noise are difficult to spot using classical radar systems. In contrast, quantum radars operate more effectively and exploit quantum entanglement to enhance their sensitivity to detect small signal reflections from very noisy regions. The radar could be operated at short distances to detect the presence of defects in biological samples or human tissues in a completely non-invasive fashion, thanks to the use of a low number of quantum-correlated photons. Source:

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