Mechanical Components

System Would Detect Foreign-Object Damage in Turbofan Engine

Vibration-sensor and gas-path-analysis data would be fused. A proposed data-fusion system, to be implemented mostly in software, would further process the digitized and preprocessed outputs of sensors in a turbofan engine to detect foreign-object damage (FOD) [more precisely, damage caused by impingement of such foreign objects as birds, pieces of ice, and runway debris]. The proposed system could help a flight crew to decide what, if any, response is necessary to complete a flight safely, and could aid mechanics in deciding what post-flight maintenance action might be needed.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Cargo-Positioning System for Next-Generation Spacecraft

A report discusses a proposed system for mounting loaded pallets in the cargo bay of a next-generation space-shuttle-like spacecraft, such that the center of mass of the cargo would lie within a 1-in. (2.54- cm) cube that would also contain the center of mass of the spacecraft. The system would include (1) an algorithm for planning the locations of the pallets, given the geometric and weight properties of the pallets, and the geometric restrictions of the cargo bay; (2) quick-connect/ quick-disconnect mounting mechanisms similar to those now used on air hoses; (3) other mounting mechanisms, comprising mostly spring-loaded pins, in a locking subsystem that would prevent shifting of the pallets under load; and (4) mechanisms for performing fine position adjustments to satisfy the center-of-mass requirement. The position-adjusting mechanisms would be motor-driven lead-screw mechanisms in groups of three — one for positioning each pin of the locking subsystem along each of three mutually perpendicular coordinate axes. The system also would include a triple threaded screw that would provide compensation for thermal expansion or contraction of the spacecraft.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Controlling Herds of Cooperative Robots

A document poses, and suggests a program of research for answering, questions of how to achieve autonomous operation of herds of cooperative robots to be used in exploration and/or colonization of remote planets. In a typical scenario, a flock of mobile sensory robots would be deployed in a previously unexplored region, one of the robots would be designated the leader, and the leader would issue commands to move the robots to different locations or aim sensors at different targets to maximize scientific return. It would be necessary to provide for this hierarchical, cooperative behavior even in the face of such unpredictable factors as terrain obstacles. A potential-fields approach is proposed as a theoretical basis for developing methods of autonomous command and guidance of a herd. A survival-of-the-fittest approach is suggested as a theoretical basis for selection, mutation, and adaptation of a description of (1) the body, joints, sensors, actuators, and control computer of each robot, and (2) the connectivity of each robot with the rest of the herd, such that the herd could be regarded as consisting of a set of artificial creatures that evolve to adapt to a previously unknown environment. A distributed simulation environment has been developed to test the proposed approaches in the Titan environment. One blimp guides three surface sondes via a potential field approach. The results of the simulation demonstrate that the method used for control is feasible, even if significant uncertainty exists in the dynamics and environmental models, and that the control architecture provides the autonomy needed to enable surface science data collection.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Modification of a Limbed Robot to Favor Climbing

A kinematically simplified design affords several benefits. The figure shows the LEMUR IIb, which is a modified version of the LEMUR II — the second generation of the Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR). Except as described below, the LEMUR IIb hardware is mostly the same as that of the LEMUR II. The IIb and II versions differ in their kinematic configurations and characteristics associated with their kinematic configurations. The differences are such that relative to the LEMUR II, the LEMUR IIb is simpler and is better suited to climbing on inclined surfaces.

Posted in: Mechanics, Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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Spacecraft Escape Capsule

A report discusses the Gumdrop capsule — a conceptual spacecraft that would enable the crew to escape safely in the event of a major equipment failure at any time from launch through atmospheric re-entry. The scaleable Gumdrop capsule would comprise a command module (CM), a service module (SM), and a crew escape system (CES). The CM would contain a pressurized crew environment that would include avionic, life-support, thermal control, propulsive attitude control, and recovery systems. The SM would provide the primary propulsion and would also supply electrical power, life-support resources, and active thermal control to the CM. The CES would include a solid rocket motor, embedded within the SM, for pushing the CM away from the SM in the event of a critical thermal-protection system failure or loss of control. The CM and SM would normally remain integrated with each other from launch through recovery, but could be separated using the CES, if necessary, to enable the safe recovery of the crew in the CM. The crew escape motor could be used, alternatively, as a redundant means of de-orbit propulsion for the CM in the event of a major system failure in the SM.

Posted in: Machinery & Automation, Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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System for Continuous Deaeration of Hydraulic Oil

The proportion of dissolved air is reliably maintained below 1 volume percent. A system for continuous, rapid deaeration of hydraulic oil has been built to replace a prior system that effected deaeration more slowly in a cyclic pressure/vacuum process. Such systems are needed because (1) hydraulic oil has an affinity for air, typically containing between 10 and 15 volume percent of air and (2) in the original application for which these systems were built, there is a requirement to keep the proportion of dissolved air below 1 volume percent because a greater proportion can lead to pump cavitation and excessive softness in hydraulic-actuator force-versus-displacement characteristics. In addition to overcoming several deficiencies of the prior deaeration system, the present system removes water from the oil.

Posted in: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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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: Mechanical Components, Briefs, TSP

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