NASA Spinoff

NASA Technology

The Partnership for Next Generation Vehicles (PNGV) is not a NASA initiative to develop powerful new rockets and spacecraft, even though it may sound like one. PNGV was a partnership established by the Clinton administration between the Federal government and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research to develop technologies that improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from cars and trucks. More than 20 Federal laboratories from the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, and Defense; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Science Foundation; and NASA were all involved in PNGV, in addition to more than 350 automotive suppliers, universities, and small businesses.

One of the greatest dangers to aircraft—playing a role in numerous destructive and fatal accidents around the world—comes in the form of droplets of water. Clouds are made up of tiny water particles with diameters typically between 10 and 50 microns. In clean air, cloud droplets can exist in liquid form down to temperatures as low as -40 °C. These subfreezing, liquid clouds are referred to as being “supercooled.” As soon as supercooled droplets contact an aircraft ascending or descending through the cloud cover, they form layers of ice on any unprotected surface, including the leading edges of wings and rotor blades, tails, antennas, and within jet engines. This ice accretion can cause engine damage and dramatically affect the aerodynamics of the aircraft. (On the leading edge of a wing, an ice layer about as thick and rough as a piece of coarse sandpaper can be responsible for as much as a 30-percent decrease in lift and a 40-percent increase in drag.) This can lead to reduced performance and even catastrophic loss of control.

One of the more remarkable developments in aviation in recent years has been the increasing deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Since the invention of the first UAV in 1916, these remotely—or sometimes autonomously—controlled vehicles have become invaluable tools for military reconnaissance and combat, cargo transport, search and rescue, scientific research, and wildfire monitoring. Free from having to accommodate the safety needs and endurance limits of a pilot, UAVs are capable of flying extended missions and venturing into hazardous and remote locations.

When Boris Popov was 8 years old, he took one of his mother’s sheets and some thread, made a parachute, climbed a tree, and jumped. The homemade chute did little to break Popov’s fall; his father took the disappointed boy aside and said, “Son, you’ve got to start higher.”

Greek mythology tells of the inventor Daedalus using wings of his own fashioning to escape from imprisonment on the island of Crete. In 1988, a similar adventure was launched, though in this case carbon-fiber composites, gears, and driveshafts featured instead of wax and feathers.

Space exploration requires reliable and efficient communication technology. One device currently under development is the inflatable antenna. Due to several unique characteristics—it is lightweight, easy to deploy, inexpensive, and requires low storage volume—inflatable technology is especially well-suited for space applications. Without requiring mechanical actuators or human assembly, something the size of a suitcase could be inflated in space to the size of a basketball court.

The materials used to make airplanes and space shuttles do not last forever. That is why NASA frequently inspects launch vehicles, fuel tanks, crew habitats, and other components for structural damage. The timely and accurate detection of cracks or other damage can prevent failure, prolong service life, and ensure safety and reliability.

Smaller, with enhanced capabilities. Less expensive, while providing improved performance. Energy efficient, without sacrificing capabilities. Smaller, less expensive, and energy efficient—but still highly durable under some of the most extreme conditions known.

On January 16, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on mission STS-107. At T plus 82 seconds, with the orbiter rocketing upwards at 1,870 miles per hour, a briefcase-sized chunk of insulating foam broke off from the external fuel tank and struck Columbia’s left wing. During reentry on February 1, hot gasses entered the wing through the damaged area of the orbiter’s thermal protection system, causing devastating structural failure that led to the destruction of Columbia and the deaths of the seven crew members onboard.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are between 4 and 11 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States each year—caused by pathogens in public drinking water. The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella have within the past few years contaminated spinach and tomato supplies, leading to nationwide health scares. Elsewhere, waterborne diseases are devastating populations in developing countries like Zimbabwe, where a cholera epidemic erupted in 2008 and claimed over 4,000 lives.

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