Mechanical & Fluid Systems

Mechanically Biased, Hinged Pairs of Piezoelectric Benders

Unit cells can be stacked to obtain greater stroke for a given voltage. The upper part of the figure depicts an actuator that comprises two mechanically biased piezoelectric benders hinged together at their ends and equipped with tabs at their mid-length points for attachment to the relatively moving objects that are to be actuated. In the example of the figure, the attachment tabs are labeled to indicate that the actuator is used to drive a pump piston relative to a base plate. Actuators of this type could be used to drive lowpower, small-volume pumps in consumer, medical, and aerospace applications, and to generate and measure linear displacements in such robotic applications as teleoperation and tactile feedback. Each bender is a bimorph — a unitary plate that comprises an upper and a lower piezoelectric layer plus electrode layers. Benders may also be made of several layers arranged to produce the same effect at the lower operating voltages. As stated above, each bender is mechanically biased; it is fabricated to have a small permanent curvature (the bias curvature) in the absence of applied voltage. As on other bimorphs, the electrical connections on each bender are arranged so that an applied voltage of suitable polarity causes the upper layer to expand and the lower layer to contract. In this case, the net effect of applying the voltage is that the plate becomes more concave as viewed from below. Conversely, an applied voltage of the opposite polarity causes the plate to become less concave as viewed from below.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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Oscillating-Linear-Drive Vacuum Compressor for CO2

A vacuum compressor has been designed to compress CO2 from ˜1 psia (˜6.9 kPa absolute pressure) to ˜75 psia (˜0.52 MPa), to be insensitive to moisture, to have a long operational life, and to be lightweight, compact, and efficient. The compressor consists mainly of (1) a compression head that includes hydraulic diaphragms, a gas-compression diaphragm, and check valves; and (2) oscillating linear drive that includes a linear motor and a drive spring, through which compression force is applied to the hydraulic diaphragms. The motor is driven at the resonance vibrational frequency of the motor/spring/compression-head system, the compression head acting as a damper that takes energy out of the oscillation. The net effect of the oscillation is to cause cyclic expansion and contraction of the gas-compression diaphragm, and, hence, of the volume bounded by this diaphragm. One-way check valves admit gas into this volume from the low-pressure side during expansion and allow the gas to flow out to the high-pressure side during contraction. Fatigue data and the results of diaphragm stress calculations have been interpreted as signifying that the compressor can be expected to have an operational life of >30 years with a confidence level of 99.9 percent.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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Rotating Vessels for Growing Protein Crystals

Rotation would ameliorate adverse effects of gravitation. Rotating vessels have been proposed as means of growing larger, more nearly uniform protein crystals than would otherwise be possible in the presence of normal Earth gravitation. Heretofore, nonrotating vessels have been used.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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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: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Finite element analysis, Measurements, Tools and equipment, Seals and gaskets, Booster rocket engines

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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: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Stability control, Weather and climate, Aerodynamics, Unmanned aerial vehicles

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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: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Landing gear, Packaging, Entry, descent, and landing, Spacecraft

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System Regulates the Water Contents of Fuel-Cell Streams

An assembly of devices provides for both humidification of the reactant gas streams of a fuel cell and removal of the product water (the water generated by operation of the fuel cell). The assembly includes externally-sensing forward-pressure regulators that supply reactant gases (fuel and oxygen) at variable pressures to ejector reactant pumps. The ejector supply pressures depend on the consumption flows. The ejectors develop differential pressures approximately proportional to the consumption flow rates at constant system pressure and with constant flow restriction between the mixer-outlet and suction ports of the ejectors. For removal of product water from the circulating oxygen stream, the assembly includes a water/gas separator that contains hydrophobic and hydrophilic membranes. The water separator imposes an approximately constant flow restriction, regardless of the quality of the two phase flow that enters it from the fuel cell. The gas leaving the water separator is nearly 100 percent humid. This gas is returned to the inlet of the fuel cell along with a quantity of dry incoming oxygen, via the oxygen ejector, thereby providing some humidification.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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