Mechanical & Fluid Systems

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: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Microelectromechanical devices, Electric power, On-board energy sources, Gas turbines


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: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Spectroscopy, Gases, Pumps, Pneumatic systems, Durability, Test equipment and instrumentation


Soft Landing of Spacecraft on Energy-Absorbing Self-Deployable Cushions

A report proposes the use of cold hibernated elastic memory (CHEM) foam structures to cushion impacts of small (1 to 50 kg) exploratory spacecraft on remote planets. Airbags, which are used on larger (800 to 1,000 kg) spacecraft have been found to (1) be too complex for smaller spacecraft; (2) provide insufficient thermal insulation between spacecraft and ground; (3) bounce on impact, thereby making it difficult to land spacecraft in precisely designated positions; and (4) be too unstable to serve as platforms for scientific observations. A CHEM foam pad according to the proposal would have a glass-transition temperature (Tg) well above ambient temperature. It would be compacted, at a temperature above Tg, to about a tenth or less of its original volume, then cooled below Tg, then installed on a spacecraft without compacting restraints. Upon entry of the spacecraft into a planetary atmosphere, the temperature would rise above Tg, causing the pad to expand to its original volume and shape. As the spacecraft decelerated and cooled, the temperature would fall below Tg, rigidifying the foam structure. The structure would absorb kinetic energy during ground impact by inelastic crushing, thus protecting the payload from damaging shocks. Thereafter, this pad would serve as a mechanically stable, thermally insulating platform for the landed spacecraft.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Elastomers, Foams, Insulation, Smart materials, Entry, descent, and landing, Spacecraft


Energy-Absorbing, Lightweight Wheels

Efficient structures would absorb impact energies and distribute contact loads. Improved energy- absorbing wheels are under development for use on special-purpose vehicles that must traverse rough terrain under conditions (e.g., extreme cold) in which rubber pneumatic tires would fail. The designs of these wheels differ from those of prior non-pneumatic energy-absorbing wheels in ways that result in lighter weights and more effective reduction of stresses generated by ground/wheel contact forces. These wheels could be made of metals and/or composite materials to withstand the expected extreme operating conditions.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Wheels, Cold weather, Terrain, Composite materials, Metals


Viscoelastic Vibration Dampers for Turbomachine Blades

These dampers can be retrofitted to existing machines. Simple viscoelastic dampers have been invented for use on the root attachments of turbomachine blades. These dampers suppress bending- and torsion-mode blade vibrations, which are excited by unsteady aerodynamic forces during operation. In suppressing vibrations, these dampers reduce fatigue (thereby prolonging blade lifetimes) while reducing noise. These dampers can be installed in new turbomachines or in previously constructed turbomachines, without need for structural modifications. Moreover, because these dampers are not exposed to flows, they do not affect the aerodynamic performances of turbomachines.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Fatigue, Exterior noise, Vibration, Mountings, Fans, Aerodynamics


Optimization of Orientations of Spacecraft Reaction Wheels

A report presents a method of optimizing the orientations of three reaction wheels used to regulate the angular momentum of a spacecraft. The method yields an orientation matrix that minimizes mass, torque, and power demand of the reaction wheels while maximizing the allowable duration between successive angular-momentum dumps. Each reaction wheel is parameterized with its own unit vector, and a quadratic cost function is defined based on requirements for torque, storage of angular momentum, and power demand. Because management of angular momentum is a major issue in designing and operating an orbiting spacecraft, an angular-momentum-management strategy is parameterized and included as part of the overall optimization process. The report describes several case studies, including one of a spacecraft proposed to be placed in orbit around Europa (the fourth largest moon of Jupiter).

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Wheels, Flight management systems, Spacecraft


Flexure Rings for Centering Lenses

The rings accommodate fabrication tolerances and thermal-expansion mismatches. Specially shaped mounting rings keep lenses precisely centered, regardless of temperature, in the lens housings of cameras and other optical systems. These rings feature (1) well-defined contact spots for alignment, plus (2) relieved surfaces that form flexures to accommodate small manufacturing tolerances and differences among the thermal expansions of lenses, lens housings, and the rings themselves. These rings are made by numerically controlled machining of recently developed clean, strong, machinable plastics.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Fiber optics, Plastics, Mountings, Parts


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