NASA Spinoff

NASA Technology

Signals from global positioning system (GPS) satellites are now being used for more than just location and navigation information. By looking at the radio waves from GPS satellites, a technology developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) not only precisely calculates its position, but can also use a technique known as radio occultation to help scientists study the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity field to improve weather forecasts, monitor climate change, and enhance space weather research.

NASA Technology

NASA currently has spacecraft orbiting Mercury (MESSENGER), imaging the asteroid Vesta (Dawn), roaming the red plains of Mars (the Opportunity rover), and providing a laboratory for humans to advance scientific research in space (the International Space Station, or ISS). The heart of the technology that powers those missions and many others can be held in the palm of your hand—the solar cell.

NASA Technology

Resourcefulness is a key quality for living in space, and on the International Space Station (ISS), that means making the most of water supplies. In 2008, the installation of the Water Processing Assembly (WPA) onboard the ISS allowed the space station’s crew to do just that. The WPA purifies moisture from nearly every possible source—sweat, water vapor, wastewater, and even urine—for drinking and oxygen generation. Capable of producing 35 gallons of potable, recycled water a day, the system has reduced the need for water delivered to the ISS by over 1,000 gallons a year, saving significant payload costs in the process.

NASA Technology

“A spacecraft is the ultimate tight building. We don’t want any leaks, and there is very little fresh air coming in,” says Jay Perry, an aerospace engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center. “As a result, there is a huge potential for a buildup of contaminants from a host of sources.”

NASA Technology

During launch countdown, at approximately T-7 seconds, the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) roar to life. When the controllers indicate normal operation, the solid rocket boosters ignite and the shuttle blasts off. Initially, the SSMEs throttle down to reduce stress during the period of maximum dynamic pressure, but soon after, they throttle up to propel the orbiter to 17,500 miles per hour. In just under 9 minutes, the three SSMEs burn over 1.6 million pounds of propellant, and temperatures inside the main combustion chamber reach 6,000 ˚F. To cool the engines, liquid hydrogen circulates through miles of tubing at -423 ˚F.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Try this: Print out a lower-case letter “o” in Times New Roman, 10-point font. Now hold the paper at arm’s length. Viewed from this distance, the area inside the “o” is approximately equal to the area observed in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Within that space—only one thirteen-millionth of the sky’s total area—Hubble revealed approximately 10,000 galaxies, each containing billions of stars. The observable universe as a whole contains some 80 billion galaxies and anywhere between 30 and 70 billion trillion stars.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

One morning in 1990, a group of Glenn Research Center (then Lewis Research Center) employees arrived to find their workspace upended by an apparent hurricane. Papers were scattered, lights blown out. All eyes turned to the door connecting the office to its neighbor: a 20-foot wind tunnel.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Water, an increasingly precious commodity on Earth, has always been priceless in space; but “priceless” is a figure of speech—water in space does have a price, and it is an expensive one. A single gallon of water costs over $83,000 to launch just into low-Earth orbit. Despite recent NASA innovations that allow astronauts to derive potable water from their own sweat and urine and technologies that may one day extract water from buried glaciers on Mars, the availability of water in space is not likely to exceed its necessity. This means methods for recycling and purifying water remain a top concern for the Space Program.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Launching the space shuttle involves an interesting paradox: While the temperatures inside the shuttle’s main engines climb higher than 6,000 °F— hot enough to boil iron—for fuel, the engines use liquid hydrogen, the second coldest liquid on Earth after liquid helium.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

NASA operates a series of Earth-observing satellites, which help scientists learn more about our home planet. Through partnerships with universities and other government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Space Agency helps scientists around the world capture precise movements of the Earth’s crust to learn more about the underground processes related to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, create accurate assessments of wind resources for future energy use, and preserve endangered species by generating much-needed data about their environments. This work, done primarily from space with satellites using a variety of complex instruments to take readings of the surface below, generates leagues of valuable data that aid scientists on the ground—or in some cases—on the water.

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