Physical Sciences

Relative-Motion Sensors and Actuators for Two Optical Tables

Relative motions can be suppressed or imposed on demand. Optoelectronic sensors and magnetic actuators have been developed as parts of a system for controlling the relative position and attitude of two massive optical tables that float on separate standard air suspensions that attenuate ground vibrations. In the specific application for which these sensors and actuators were developed, one of the optical tables holds an optical system that mimics distant stars, while the other optical table holds a test article that simulates a spaceborne stellar interferometer that would be used to observe the stars.

Posted in: Physical Sciences, Briefs, TSP

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Improved Position Sensor for Feedback Control of Levitation

In this application, an incandescent light bulb is preferable to a laser. An improved optoelectronic apparatus has been developed to provide the position feedback needed for controlling the levitation subsystem of a containerless processing system. As explained below, the advantage of this apparatus over prior optoelectronic apparatuses that have served this purpose stems from the use of an incandescent lamp, instead of a laser, to illuminate the levitated object.

Posted in: Physical Sciences, Briefs

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Diffusion-Cooled Tantalum Hot-Electron Bolometer Mixers

Lower TC s should translate to lower noise and lower required local-oscillator power. A batch of experimental diffusion-cooled hot-electron bolometers (HEBs), suitable for use as mixers having input frequencies in the terahertz range and output frequencies up to about a gigahertz, exploit the superconducting/normal-conducting transition in a thin strip of tantalum. The design and operation of these HEB mixers are based on mostly the same principles as those of a prior HEB mixer that exploited the superconducting/ normal-conducting transition in a thin strip of niobium and that was described in “Diffusion-Cooled Hot-Electron Bolometer Mixer” (NPO-19719), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 21, No. 1 (January 1997), page 12a.

Posted in: Physical Sciences, Briefs, TSP

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Electron-Spin Filters Based on the Rashba Effect

Filters would be made from nonmagnetic semiconductors and operated without applied magnetic fields. Semiconductor electron-spin filters of a proposed type would be based on the Rashba effect, which is described briefly below. Electron-spin filters — more precisely, sources of spin-polarized electron currents — have been sought for research on, and development of, the emerging technological discipline of spintronics (spin-based electronics). There have been a number of successful demonstrations of injection of spin-polarized electrons from diluted magnetic semiconductors and from ferromagnetic metals into nonmagnetic semiconductors. In contrast, a device according to the proposal would be made from nonmagnetic semiconductor materials and would function without an applied magnetic field.

Posted in: Physical Sciences, Briefs, TSP

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Progress in Insect-Inspired Optical Navigation Sensors

Some details of implementation have become available. Progress has been made in continuing efforts to develop optical flight-control and navigation sensors for miniature robotic aircraft. The designs of these sensors are inspired by the designs and functions of the vision systems and brains of insects. Two types of sensors of particular interest are polarization compasses and ocellar horizon sensors. The basic principle of polarization compasses was described (but without using the term “polarization compass”) in “Insect-Inspired Flight Control for Small Flying Robots” (NPO-30545), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 2005), page 61. To recapitulate: Bees use sky polarization patterns in ultraviolet (UV) light, caused by Rayleigh scattering of sunlight by atmospheric gas molecules, as direction references relative to the apparent position of the Sun. A robotic direction-finding technique based on this concept would be more robust in comparison with a technique based on the direction to the visible Sun because the UV polarization pattern is distributed across the entire sky and, hence, is redundant and can be extrapolated from a small region of clear sky in an elsewhere cloudy sky that hides the Sun.

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Sol-Gel Glass Holographic Light-Shaping Diffusers

Defined areas can be illuminated diffusely with high efficiency. Holographic glass light-shaping diffusers (GLSDs) are optical components for use in special-purpose illumination systems (see figure). When properly positioned with respect to lamps and areas to be illuminated, holographic GLSDs efficiently channel light from the lamps onto specified areas with specified distributions of illumination — for example, uniform or nearly uniform irradiance can be concentrated with intensity confined to a peak a few degrees wide about normal incidence, over a circular or elliptical area.

Posted in: Physical Sciences, Briefs

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Phase Correction for GPS Antenna With Nonunique Phase Center

Position can be determined more accurately. A method of determining the position and attitude of a body equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver includes an accounting for the location of the nonunique phase center of a distributed or wraparound GPS antenna. The method applies, more specifically, to the case in which (1) the GPS receiver utilizes measurements of the phases of GPS carrier signals in its position and attitude computations and (2) the body is axisymmetric (e.g., spherical or round cylindrical) and wrapped at its equator with a single- or multiple-element antenna, the radiation pattern of which is also axisymmetric with the same axis of symmetry as that of the body.

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