Physical Sciences

Watching Alloys Change Could Lead to Better Metals

If you put a camera in the ice machine and watched water turn into ice, the process would look simple. But the mechanism behind liquids turning to solids is actually quite complex, and understanding it better could improve design and production of metals. A recent investigation aboard the International Space Station (ISS) involved experiments using transparent alloys to observe microstructures that form at the point the material solidifies.

Posted in: UpFront

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A Continuous-Flow, Microfluidic, Microwave-Assisted Chemical Reactor

The reactor uses a directed 60-GHz source, which may require far less power to observe the same reactivity profiles. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California In industrial synthetic chemistry laboratories, reactions are generally carried out using batch-mode methodologies, stepwise reactions, and purifications to generate a final product. Each step has an associated yield of both the reaction itself and of the final purification that is largely dependent on the procedure being used, and the scientist carrying out the procedure. Continuous-flow reactors are one way of streamlining the process. Furthermore, microwave-enhanced, or microwave-assisted, chemistry has been demonstrated to aid in many of these areas; however, scaling has been a traditional problem with this technique.

Posted in: Articles, Briefs, TSP

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Monolithic Dual Telescope for Compact Biaxial Lidar

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland A document discusses the Ultra Compact Cloud Physics Lidar, a biaxial lidar with a narrow receiver field of view. It requires tight optical alignment between the transmitter and receiver paths while flying on various aircraft over various temperatures and in the presence of vibration. To achieve optical crossover as close to the lidar as possible, the transmit and receive telescopes must be built very closely to each other.

Posted in: Articles, Briefs, TSP, Tech Briefs, Photonics

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Ultra-Low-Maintenance Portable Ocean Power Station

These fuel cell systems can be used for remote power generation, transportation applications, or in offshore wells. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California The goals of this research are to develop a relatively inexpensive, compact, and modular power package for deep offshore oil drilling or other undersea applications that provides 2 to 5 MW electricity, minimal maintenance, and at least 30 years of life.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Mars-Optimized Solar Cells

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California Commercial triple junction solar cell designs were modified in their junction thicknesses, contact grid densities, and anti-reflective (AR) coating thicknesses to better match the Mars surface solar spectrum. Resulting cells show up to approximately 8% relative improvement in efficiency under the Mars solar spectrum, compared to non-optimized space solar cells, in testing performed at JPL.

Posted in: Briefs

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Alternating Magnetic Field Forces for Satellite Formation Flying

John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida Orbiting a large number of satellites in fixed formations will be critical to many future space missions, especially large-scale interferometers, telescopes, antennas, and gravity wave detectors. Consequently, extensive research has been devoted over the last 20 years to formation flying architectures, concentrating not only on the mission objective, but also on the technologies required to achieve a stable satellite formation. Several proposals have been suggested for determining the location of the satellites, but the more difficult problem is developing a system that can hold the satellites at those desired locations and orientations. The two most common solutions are to use microthrusters, though these require propellant and will eventually be depleted, or to choose orbital patterns that minimize relative perturbations, but for highly precise positioning, this is not adequate. Neither of these approaches solves the problem for long-duration missions such as a multi-element telescope where the mirrors must be located and oriented to a tolerance less than an optical wavelength.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Thermal Materials Protect Priceless Personal Keepsakes

Thermal protection technology used on the shuttles keeps valuables safe from fire. Most of us cannot comprehend the task of building something to withstand temperatures over 4,000 °F, but NASA can. The space shuttles endured such temperatures when returning to Earth’s atmosphere because of aerodynamic heating, or heating due to the combination of compression and surface friction from Earth’s atmosphere. For the vehicle to survive these conditions, NASA constructed a complex thermal protection system (TPS) for the exterior of the shuttle.

Posted in: Articles

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