UpFront

Mars Rover Technology Adapted to Detect Gas Leaks

In collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced that it is testing state-of-the-art technology adapted from NASA’s Mars rover program. Originally designed to find methane on the Red Planet, this laser-based technology is lightweight and has superior sensitivity to methane, a major component of natural gas. The technology applied on Earth helps guide PG&E crews using a tablet interface to identify possible leak locations, fast-tracking their ability to repair gas leaks.

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Autonomous Vehicles Could Improve Traffic Flow

Autonomous vehicles are getting closer to making their debut on our roads, which is leading researchers to think about how they can assist with traffic flow and fuel consumption. Temple University, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, is researching traffic-flow modeling and how synchronizing autonomous vehicles can enable them to communicate and share information. In order to operate safely, these vehicles have to collect large quantities of data about the environment around them. That data, such as traffic density and flow velocity, could be communicated from one vehicle to another, causing the vehicles to react in a way that alters the flow of traffic.

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NASA’s Space Station Fix-It for Satellites

NASA’s fix-it investigation on the International Space Station (ISS), the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), has moved one step closer to its 2.0 update with the delivery of new RRM hardware. The RRM module, affixed to an exterior ISS platform since 2011, now awaits the robotic transfer of two new task boards and a borescope inspection tool that will equip RRM for a new round of satellite-servicing demonstrations.

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The Power of Salt

Where the river meets the sea, there is the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy, according to mechanical engineers at MIT. They evaluated an emerging method of power generation called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy. In principle, a PRO system would take in river water and seawater on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Through osmosis, water from the less-salty stream would cross the membrane to a pre-pressurized saltier side, creating a flow that can be sent through a turbine to recover power.

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The Next Mars Journey

The next rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 will carry seven instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet. The instruments were selected recently from 58 proposals from researchers and engineers worldwide. The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

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Plant Pillows Keep Veggies Growing on Space Station

A plant growth chamber on the International Space Station could help expand in-orbit food production capabilities, and offer astronauts something they don’t take for granted: fresh food.

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Inspection Robots Keep Buildings Safe

Buildings, industrial plants, and bridges have to bear heavy loads and are exposed to wind and weather. Many buildings in Germany were built in the postwar years and now show damage due to aging. To inspect their condition and prevent hazards to people, much effort still has to be devoted to buildings that are difficult to access.

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