Mechanical & Fluid Systems

Ultrasonic Apparatus for Pulverizing Brittle Material

Characteristics include light weight, low preload, and low power demand. The figure depicts an apparatus that pulverizes brittle material by means of a combination of ultrasonic and sonic vibration, hammering, and abrasion. The basic design of the apparatus could be specialized to be a portable version for use by a geologist in collecting powdered rock samples for analysis in the field or in a laboratory. Alternatively, a larger benchtop version could be designed for milling and mixing of precursor powders for such purposes as synthesis of ceramic and other polycrystalline materials or preparing powder samples for x-ray diffraction or x-ray fluorescence measurements to determine crystalline structures and compositions. Among the most attractive characteristics of this apparatus are its light weight and the ability to function without need for a large preload or a large power supply: It has been estimated that a portable version could have a mass <0.5 kg, would consume less than 1 W·h of energy in milling a 1-cm 3 volume of rock, and could operate at a preload <10 N.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components

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Liquid-Metal-Fed Pulsed Plasma Thrusters

A short document proposes liquid- metal- fed pulsed plasma thrusters for small spacecraft. The propellant liquid for such a thruster would be a low- melting- temperature metal that would be stored molten in an unpressurized, heated reservoir and would be pumped to the thruster by a magneto- hydrodynamic coupler. The liquid would enter the thruster via a metal tube inside an electrically insulating ceramic tube. A capacitor would be connected between the outlet of the metal tube and the outer electrode of the thruster. The pumping would cause a drop of liquid to form at the outlet, eventually growing large enough to make contact with the outer electrode. Contact would close the circuit through the capacitor, causing the capacitor to discharge through the drop. The capacitor would have been charged with enough energy that the discharge would vaporize, ionize, and electromagnetically accelerate the contents of the metal drop. The resulting plasma would be ejected at a speed of about 50 km/s. The vaporization of the drop would reopen the circuit through the capacitor, enabling recharging of the capacitor. As pumping continued, a new drop would grow and the process would repeat.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components

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Attitude Control for a Solar-Sail Spacecraft

A report describes the personal radiation protection system (PRPS), which has been invented for use on the International Space Station and other spacecraft. The PRPS comprises walls that can be erected inside spacecraft, where and when needed, to reduce the amount of radiation to which personnel are exposed. The basic structural modules of the PRPS are pairs of 1-in. (2.54-cm)-thick plates of high-density polyethylene equipped with fasteners. The plates of each module are assembled with a lap joint. The modules are denoted bricks. A report discusses the attitude-control system of a proposed spacecraft that would derive at least part of its propulsion from a solar sail. The spacecraft would include a bus module containing three or more reaction wheels, a boom attached at one end to the bus module and attached at its other end to a two-degree-of-freedom (DOF) gimbal at the nominal center of mass of a sail module. Each DOF of the gimbal could be independently locked against rotation or allowed to rotate freely. By using the reaction wheels to rotate the bus when at least one gimbal DOF was in the free state, the center of mass (CM) of the spacecraft could be shifted relative to the center of pressure (CP) on the solar sail. The resulting offset between the CM and CP would result in a solar torque, which could be used to change the attitude of the spacecraft. The report discusses numerous aspects of the dynamics and kinematics of the spacecraft, along with the relationships between these aspects and the designs of such attitude-control-system components as sensors, motors, brakes, clutches, and gimbals.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components

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Estimating Basic Preliminary Design Performances of Aerospace Vehicles

Aerodynamics and Performance Estimation Toolset is a collection of four software programs for rapidly estimating the preliminary design performance of aerospace vehicles represented by doing simplified calculations based on ballistic trajectories, the ideal rocket equation, and supersonic wedges through standard atmosphere. The program consists of a set of Microsoft Excel worksheet subprograms. The input and output data are presented in a user-friendly format, and calculations are performed rapidly enough that the user can iterate among different trajectories and/or shapes to perform "what-if " studies. Estimates that can be computed by these programs include: Ballistic trajectories as a function of departure angles, initial velocities, initial positions, and target altitudes; assuming point masses and no atmosphere. The program plots the trajectory in two-dimensions and outputs the position, pitch, and velocity along the trajectory. The "Rocket Equation" program calculates and plots the trade space for a vehicle's propellant mass fraction over a range of specific impulse and mission velocity values, propellant mass fractions as functions of specific impulses and velocities. "Standard Atmosphere" will estimate the temperature, speed of sound, pressure, and air density as a function of altitude in a standard atmosphere, properties of a standard atmosphere as functions of altitude. "Supersonic Wedges" will calculate the free-stream, normal-shock, oblique-shock, and isentropic flow properties for a wedge-shaped body flying super-sonically through a standard atmosphere. It will also calculate the maximum angle for which a shock remains attached, and the minimum Mach number for which a shock becomes at-angle, altitude, and Mach number.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components

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Bubble Eliminator Based on Centifugal Flow

This device contains no moving parts. The fluid bubble eliminator (FBE) is a device that removes gas bubbles from a flowing liquid. The FBE contains no moving parts and does not require any power input beyond that needed to pump the liquid. In the FBE, the buoyant force for separating the gas from the liquid is provided by a radial pressure gradient associated with a centrifugal flow of the liquid and any entrained bubbles. A device based on a similar principle is described in Centrifugal Adsorption Cartridge System (Nasa Tech Briefs August 2004, MSC-22863), which appears on page 48 of this issue. The FBE was originally intended for use in filtering bubbles out of a liquid flowing relatively slowly in a bioreactor system in microgravity. Versions that operate in normal Earth gravitation at greater flow speeds may also be feasible.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components

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Inflatable Emergency Atmospheric-Entry Vehicles

Ballutes would act as inexpensive, lightweight atmospheric decelerator "lifeboats." In response to the loss of seven astronauts in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, large, lightweight, inflatable atmospheric-entry vehicles have been proposed as means of emergency descent and landing for persons who must abandon a spacecraft that is about to reenter the atmosphere and has been determined to be unable to land safely. Such a vehicle would act as an atmospheric decelerator at supersonic speed in the upper atmosphere,and a smaller, central astronaut pod could then separate at lower altitudes and parachute separately to Earth.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components

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Lightweight Deployable Mirrors With Tensegrity Supports

Extremely lightweight, deployable structures could be made by assembling tensegrity modules. The upper part of Figure 1 shows a small-scale prototype of a developmental class of lightweight, deployable structures that would support panels in precise alignments. In this case, the panel is hexagonal and supports disks that represent segments of a primary mirror of a large telescope. The lower part of Figure 1 shows a complete conceptual structure containing multiple hexagonal panels that hold mirror segments.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components

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