NASA Spinoff

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

In order to transmit communications through Earth’s atmosphere, satellites and space vehicles need radio equipment that can operate at higher frequencies than on Earth. These higher frequencies, until recently, have demanded mechanical switches in radio relays. Unfortunately, the mechanical switches had some problems with frequency routing, which inspired NASA to seek more rugged, reliable solutions.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Prior to 1999 and the development of SpaceWire, a standard for high-speed links for computer networks managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), there was no high-speed communications protocol for flight electronics. Onboard computers, processing units, and other electronics had to be designed for individual projects and then redesigned for subsequent projects, which increased development periods, costs, and risks. After adopting the SpaceWire protocol in 2000, NASA implemented the standard on the Swift mission, a gamma ray burst-alert telescope launched in November 2004. Scientists and developers on the James Webb Space Telescope further developed the network version of SpaceWire.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Solar cells, integrated circuits, and sensors are essential to manned and unmanned space flight and exploration, but such systems are highly susceptible to damage from radiation. Especially problematic, the Van Allen radiation belts encircle Earth in concentric radioactive tori at distances from about 6,300 to 38,000 km, though the inner radiation belt can dip as low as 700 km, posing a severe hazard to craft and humans leaving Earth’s atmosphere. To avoid this radiation, the International Space Station and space shuttles orbit at altitudes between 275 and 460 km, below the belts’ range, and Apollo astronauts skirted the edge of the belts to minimize exposure, passing swiftly through thinner sections of the belts and thereby avoiding significant side effects. This radiation can, however, prove detrimental to improperly protected electronics on satellites that spend the majority of their service life in the harsh environment of the belts. Compact, high-performance electronics that can withstand extreme environmental and radiation stress are thus critical to future space missions.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The Red Planet has long held a particular hold on the human psyche. From the Roman god of war to Orson Welles’ infamous Halloween broadcast, our nearest planetary neighbor has been viewed with curiosity, suspicion, and awe. Pictures of Mars from 1965 to the present reveal familiar landscapes while also challenging our perceptions and revising our understanding of the processes at work in planets. Frequent discoveries have forced significant revisions to previous theories.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The Inductive Monitoring System (IMS) software developed at Ames Research Center uses artificial intelligence and data mining techniques to build system-monitoring knowledge bases from archived or simulated sensor data. This information is then used to detect unusual or anomalous behavior that may indicate an impending system failure.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

In the increasingly sophisticated world of high-definition flat screen monitors and television screens, image clarity and the elimination of distortion are paramount concerns. As the devices that reproduce images become more and more sophisticated, so do the technologies that verify their accuracy. By simulating the manner in which a human eye perceives and interprets a visual stimulus, NASA scientists have found ways to automatically and accurately test new monitors and displays.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Robot Systems Technology Branch engineers at Johnson Space Center created the remotely controlled Robonaut for use as an additional “set of hands” in extravehicular activities (EVAs) and to allow exploration of environments that would be too dangerous or difficult for humans. One of the problems Robonaut developers encountered was that the robot’s interface offered an extremely limited field of vision. Johnson robotics engineer, Darby Magruder, explained that the 40-degree field-of-view (FOV) in initial robotic prototypes provided very narrow tunnel vision, which posed difficulties for Robonaut operators trying to see the robot’s surroundings. Because of the narrow FOV, NASA decided to reach out to the private sector for assistance. In addition to a wider FOV, NASA also desired higher resolution in a head-mounted display (HMD) with the added ability to capture and display video.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

To relay data from remote locations for NASA’s Earth sciences research, Goddard Space Flight Center contributed to the development of “microservers” (wireless sensor network nodes), which are now used commercially as a quick and affordable means to capture and distribute geographical information, including rich sets of aerial and street-level imagery.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Expert system software programs, also known as knowledge-based systems, are computer programs that emulate the knowledge and analytical skills of one or more human experts, related to a specific subject. SHINE (Spacecraft Health Inference Engine) is one such program, a software inference engine (expert system) designed by NASA for the purpose of monitoring, analyzing, and diagnosing both real-time and non-real-time systems. It was developed to meet many of the Agency’s demanding and rigorous artificial intelligence goals for current and future needs.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

NASA missions require advanced planning, scheduling, and management, and the Space Agency has worked extensively to develop the programs and software suites necessary to facilitate these complex missions. These enormously intricate undertakings have hundreds of active components that need constant management and monitoring. It is no surprise, then, that the software developed for these tasks is often applicable in other high-stress, complex environments, like in government or industrial settings.

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