Mechanical Components

Analysis of Designs of Space Laboratories

A report presents a review of the development of laboratories in outer space, starting from the pioneering Skylab and Salyut stations of the United States and the former Soviet Union and progressing through current and anticipated future developments. The report includes textual discussions of space-station designs, illustrated with drawings, photographs, and tables. The approach taken in the review was not to provide a comprehensive catalog of each space laboratory and every design topic that applies to it, but, rather, to illustrate architectural precedents by providing examples that illustrate major design problems and principles to be applied in solving them. Hence, the report deemphasizes information from the most recent space-station literature and concentrates on information from original design reports that show how designs originated and evolved. The most important contribution of the review was the development of a methodology, called "units of analysis," for identifying and analyzing design issues from the perspectives of four broad domains: laboratory science, crew, modes of operations, and the system as a whole.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Bio-Inspired Engineering of Exploration Systems

Exploration systems with capabilities imbibed from nature enable new operations that were otherwise very difficult or impossible to accomplish. The multidisciplinary concept of "bioinspired engineering of exploration systems" (BEES) is described, which is a guiding principle of the continuing effort to develop biomorphic explorers as reported in a number of articles in the past issues of NASA Tech Briefs. The intent of BEES is to distill from the principles found in successful nature-tested mechanisms of specific "crucial functions" that are hard to accomplish by conventional methods but that are accomplished rather deftly in nature by biological organisms. The intent is not just to mimic operational mechanisms found in a specific biological organism but to imbibe the salient principles from a variety of diverse bio-organisms for the desired "crucial function." Thereby, we can build explorer systems that have specific capabilities endowed beyond nature, as they will possess a combination of the best nature-tested mechanisms for that particular function. The approach consists of selecting a crucial function, for example, flight or some selected aspects of flight, and develop an explorer that combines the principles of those specific attributes as seen in diverse flying species into one artificial entity. This will allow going beyond biology and achieving unprecedented capability and adaptability needed in encountering and exploring what is as yet unknown. A classification of biomorphic flyers into two main classes of surface and aerial explorers is illustrated in the figure, with examples of a variety of biological organisms that provide the inspiration in each respective subclass.

Posted in: Mechanics, Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Hybrid Aerial/Rover Vehicle

This robotic vehicle would combine features of balloons and "beach-ball" rovers. A proposed instrumented robotic vehicle called an "aerover" would fly, roll along the ground, and/or float on bodies of liquid, as needed. The aerover would combine features of an aerobot (a robotic lighter-than-air balloon) and a wheeled robot of the "rover" class. An aerover would also look very much like a variant of the "beach-ball" rovers described in "Lightweight 'Beach- Ball' Robotic Vehicles" (NPO-20283), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 22, No. 7 (July 1998), page 74. Although the aerover was conceived for use in scientific exploration of Titan (the largest moon of the planet Saturn), the aerover concept could readily be adapted to similar uses on Earth.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Compliant Gripper for a Robotic Manipulator

Diverse small objects can be manipulated without force-feedback control. The figure depicts a prototype of a robotic-manipulator gripping device that includes two passive compliant fingers, suitable for picking up and manipulating objects that have irregular shapes and/or that are, themselves, compliant. The main advantage offered by this device over other robotic-manipulator gripping devices is simplicity: Because of the compliance of the fingers, force-feedback control of the fingers is not necessary for gripping objects of a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, and degrees of compliance. Examples of objects that can be manipulated include small stones, articles of clothing, and parts of plants.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Accurate Spring Testing

Load-testing machine features can affect the accuracy, precision, repeatability, and reproducibility of test results. Virtually all spring manufacturers must test their products with some kind of load testing machine. Testing ensures that the product is produced and shipped within the customer's specifications. Or does it? Disputes over test results still occur that can cause a multitude of costly problems: returned product, delayed payment, product liability, or customer dissatisfaction. The quality of a spring testing program can largely affect these problems and their associated cost.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs

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Pneumatically Actuated Miniature Peristaltic Vacuum Pumps

Small, rugged, low-power pumps could be fabricated inexpensively. Pneumatically actuated miniature peristaltic vacuum pumps have been proposed for incorporation into advanced miniature versions of scientific instruments that depend on vacuum for proper operation. These pumps are expected to be capable of reaching vacuum-side pressures in the torr to millitorr range (from ≈133 down to ≈0.13 Pa). Vacuum pumps that operate in this range are often denoted roughing pumps. In comparison with previously available roughing pumps, these pumps are expected to be an order of magnitude less massive and less power-hungry. In addition, they would be extremely robust, and would operate with little or no maintenance and without need for oil or other lubricants. Portable mass spectrometers are typical examples of instruments that could incorporate the proposed pumps. In addition, the proposed pumps could be used as roughing pumps in general laboratory applications in which low pumping rates could be tolerated.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Miniature Gas-Turbine Power Generator

Energy density would greatly exceed that of a typical battery system. A proposed microelectromechanical system (MEMS) containing a closed- Brayton-cycle turbine would serve as a prototype of electric- power generators for special applications in which high energy densities are required and in which, heretofore, batteries have been used. The system would have a volume of about 6 cm3 and would operate with a thermal efficiency >30 percent, generating up to 50 W of electrical power. The energy density of the proposed system would be about 10 times that of the best battery-based systems now available, and, as such, would be comparable to that of a fuel cell.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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