Physical Sciences

Paraffin-Actuated Heat Switch for Mars Surface Applications

Missions to the surface of Mars pose unique thermal-control challenges to rover and lander systems. With diurnal temperature changes greater than 100 °C, the presence of a Mars atmosphere, and limited power for night-time heating, the thermal-control engineer is faced with a fundamental problem: how to successfully keep components above their survival or operating temperatures at night while managing higher environmental temperatures and dissipation rates during the day. A report describes such a paraffin-actuated heat switch as part of the thermal-control system for a robotic exploratory vehicle on Mars. Over a predetermined temperature range, the switch heat conductance varies by nearly two orders of magnitude to regulate temperatures. The actuation of the heat switch is entirely mechanical and autonomous, relying on the temperature based expansion and contraction of paraffin contained in a seal boot.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Switches, Thermal management


Making Three-Dimensional Holograms Visible From All Sides

Three-dimensional virtual reality displays could be viewed without visual aids.A technique for projecting holographic images to make both still and moving three-dimensional displays is undergoing development. Unlike older techniques based on stereoscopy to give the appearance of three-dimensionality, the developmental technique would not involve the use of polarizing goggles, goggles equipped with miniature video cameras, or other visual aids. Unlike in holographic display as practiced until now, visibility of the image would not be restricted to a narrow range of directions about a specified line of sight to a holographic projection plate. Instead, the image would be visible from any side or from the top; that is, from any position with a clear line of sight to the projection apparatus. In other words, the display could be viewed as though it were an ordinary three-dimensional object. The technique has obvious potential value for the entertainment industry, and for military uses like displaying battlefield scenes overlaid on three-dimensional terrain maps.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Imaging and visualization, Displays, Performance upgrades


Electrometer for Triboelectric Evaluation of Materials

Some materials should be distinguishable by their triboelectric responses.An electrometer developed for measuring the triboelectric responses of soils on Mars is also potentially useful on Earth for identifying some materials via their triboelectric responses. In operation, an array of triboelectric sensors is rubbed against the material of interest for a predetermined distance, then withdrawn from the material of interest at a predetermined speed. During this operation, the electrometer circuitry measures the time-varying sensor output voltages, which are proportional to the electric charges induced on the sensors by the rubbing. The resulting voltage-vs.-time data constitute the desired triboelectric-response data. If materials that one seeks to identify or to distinguish from each other exhibit unique, known triboelectric responses that have been catalogued, then a sample of unknown material can be identified by seeking a match between its triboelectric response and one of the catalogued responses.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Soils, Materials identification, Test equipment and instrumentation


Characteristics of Supercritical Transitional Mixing Layers

This report describes a study of threedimensional, temporal mixing layers between different fluids initially flowing at different velocities under supercritical conditions. The study involved direct numerical simulations by use of a validated mathematical model of high-pressurefluid behavior that has been described in a number of prior NASA Tech Briefs articles. In some cases, the fluids were heptane and nitrogen; in other cases, they were hydrogen and oxygen. In all these simulations, the mixing layers underwent transition to turbulence.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Computational fluid dynamics, Mathematical models


Infrared CO2 Sensor With Built-In Calibration Chambers

A proposed infrared CO2 sensor, operated in conjunction with suitable readout, data-processing, and control circuitry, could be calibrated repeatedly during operation to compensate for changes in sensor response induced by such phenomena as aging and changes in temperature. The sensor would include an infrared source, an infrared detector, and four chambers containing CO2 at various concentrations. Three of the chambers would be calibration chambers: they would be sealed and would contain CO2 at known low, intermediate, and high concentrations, respectively. The fourth chamber would be filled with the gas under test containing CO2 at a concentration to be determined. There would be optics for multiplexing infrared radiation from the source through the four chambers and demultiplexing the radiation from the chambers to the infrared detector. During an operation/calibration cycle, radiation would be directed through each chamber in turn, and the response of the detector recorded for each chamber. A three-point calibration for that cycle would be computed from the responses for the three calibration chambers. Then the concentration of CO2 in the fourth chamber would be computed by simply multiplying the detector response for that chamber by a factor calculated as part of the calibration.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Calibration, Sensors and actuators, Carbon dioxide


Solid-State Potentiometric CO Sensor

A solid-state sensor was developed that measures the concentrations of one or more gases of interest in a mixture of gases. This simple solid-state sensor produces a voltage signal that is sensitive to CO concentration from percent to ppm (parts per million) levels. It was intended originally for use in measuring concentrations of carbon monoxide in fuel and oxidizer gases generated on Mars in a process that would include the decomposition of atmospheric CO2 into CO and O2 In that application, the sensor would be capable of measuring high concentrations of CO expected to occur on the fuel side of the process, yet would be selective and sensitive enough to measure the low concentrations of CO in O2 expected on the oxidizer side of the process. On Earth, sensors like this one could be used to detect toxic concentrations of CO emitted in diverse processes, including refining of petroleum and combustion of hydrocarbon fuels in furnaces and automobiles.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Carbon monoxide, Gases


Planetary Rover Absolute Heading Detection Using a Sun Sensor

Headings are accurate to within a few degrees. A relatively inexpensive Sun sensor for determining the absolute heading of planetary rovers to within ± 3° using a monochrome charge-coupled device (CCD) camera is presented. The Sun sensor was developed for the Field Integrated, Design and Operations (FIDO) rover. This rover is an advance technology rover that is a terrestrial prototype of the rovers that NASA/JPL plans to send to Mars in 2003. The goal of the FIDO team was to develop a Sun sensor that fills the current cost/performance gap, uses the power of sub-pixel interpolation, makes use of current hardware on the rover, and demands very little computational overhead. In addition, a great deal of emphasis was placed on robustness to calibration errors and the flexibility to make a transition to a flight rover with very little modification.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Navigation and guidance systems, Sensors and actuators, Sun and solar, Autonomous vehicles, Spacecraft


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