NASA Spinoff

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

As increased energy efficiency, and particularly fuel efficiency, becomes a greater concern, hybrid and electric vehicles gain greater prominence in the market. Electric vehicles (EVs), in particular, provide an attractive option as they produce no emissions during operation, isolating any potential emissions and effluents in the manufacturing and energy-generation streams.

The necessary energy stores to support a shift to EVs already exist, as utilities constructed to address peak demands have off-peak surpluses sufficient to charge about 180 million plug-in hybrid or all-electric cars. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, there is enough excess generating capacity during the night and morning to allow more than 80 percent of today’s vehicles to make the average daily commute solely using this electricity. Effective energy management sees its ultimate realization in the vehicle-to-grid (V2G) concept, in which plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles can be used to balance energy demand and consumption. In a V2G system, millions of automotive batteries could absorb excess power generated, and release it back into the grid at times of insufficient supply. With a several kilowatt-hour storage capacity per vehicle, millions of operational plug-ins could act as a safety net for the power grid, supplying backup power in an outage, with the vehicle owners credited for power returned to the grid. This smoothing of excess and deficiency in the power grid would also help stabilize intermittent sources of energy such as wind power and make them more viable alternatives.

Historically, the primary obstacles to the widespread application of EVs were lack of infrastructure development and a lack of sufficiently robust battery technologies to consistently power vehicles for an extended duration and at performance levels suitable to a modern urban environment. Technology may at last have caught up with the need, and rising petroleum prices are encouraging more and more consumers to consider electric and hybrid vehicles. In addition, a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that plug-in cars capable of 50 miles per day would meet the needs of 80 percent of the American driving public, the average daily ommuters.

NASA has taken a keen interest in battery-powered vehicles, and is encouraging their continued development. The “NASA Official Fleet Management Handbook,” regarding the use of alternative fueled vehicles, states: “Ideally, all Centers should have on-site alternative fuel facilities . . . . Centers are encouraged to use NEVs [Neighborhood Electric Vehicles] to fill inventory requirements where feasible.”

Hybrid Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of lithium-ion battery-EVs, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and with research and manufacturing facilities in Mooresville, North Carolina, entered into a Space Act Agreement with Kennedy Space Center to determine the utility of lithium-powered fleet vehicles. Under this agreement, the company supplied a fleet of cars for the engineers at Kennedy to test. In return for the engineering expertise supplied by the NASA employees, the Center was given the opportunity to use the zero-emission vehicles for transportation around the Kennedy campus. NASA contributed engineering expertise for the cars’ advanced battery management system, and vehicles selected for use in the Kennedy fleet included the Hybrid PT Cruiser, lithium smart fortwo, and a high-performance all-terrain vehicle.

The vehicles were powered by Ballard Power Systems’ 312V 67 MS electric drive system, which has a 32kW continuous rating and delivers a peak power of 67kW, with torque of 190 Nm (140 lb-ft). Hybrid Technologies selected this motor based on its proven track record and excellent power-to-weight ratio. The electric PT Cruisers have a top speed in excess of 80 miles per hour and a range of 120 miles. Charge time is 6-8 hours with either 110-120 V or 220-240V, and the lithium-ion battery pack has a cycle life of more than 1,500 charges.

In addition to the vehicles supplied to NASA, the company provided a fleet of lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Navy.

Product Outcome
Hybrid Technologies deployed the first all-electric taxi in New York City and has begun demonstrating smart fortwo conversions like the ones used at Kennedy. The company also delivered an additional two PT Cruiser-based electric taxis and an electric Chrysler Town & Country minivan to the city of Sacramento for use by a private para-transit nonprofit organization. Most recently, Hybrid Technologies has produced an EV version of the popular MINI Cooper, which debuted in the December 2007 Sam’s Club catalog. The EV MINI Cooper proudly displays its NASA heritage, sharing the STS-128 designation with an upcoming Space Shuttle Endeavor mission. It boasts a range of 120 miles at 75 miles per hour, and is driven by a 40kW electric motor and powered by a 30kWh battery pack. The appeal of the electric MINI is strong and widespread, and Hybrid Technologies conversions have already attracted celebrity fans.

Also available from Sam’s Club, the 2007 Hybrid Technologies lithium-powered smart fortwo EV (also available as a limited edition STS-118 smart fortwo) has an estimated range of 150 miles, a top speed over 70 mph, and takes only 4 hours to charge at 220 volts. There are two electric motors that can be used in the vehicle, one from Ballard and one from Siemens VDO. The lithium polymer battery pack comes from Kokam America Inc., and the battery management system is Hybrid Technologies’ own. As an introductory offer, Sam’s Club included a behind-the-scenes trip to Kennedy and attendance at a space shuttle launch, with purchase of one of the EVs. When asked about the availability of amenities such as air conditioning and heating, comforts not always incorporated into EV conversions, Richard Griffiths, Strategic Relations for Hybrid Technologies, stated “The [smart fortwo EV] has absolutely every option, every feature that a regular, production smart car has.” Griffiths estimated the extra amenities consume about 5 percent of the vehicle’s battery capacity. “We’re offering the fully electric smart car to Sam’s Club members as it represents the latest in advanced lithium technology . . . . This limited edition STS-118 smart car will be the perfect addition for car collectors or the environmentalist wanting to make a difference by driving a zero emissions vehicle.” In addition to the MINI Cooper and smart fortwo conversions, Hybrid Technologies offers PT Cruiser and Chrysler Crossfire EV conversions.

Even more impressive than its line of conversions, Hybrid Technologies now also offers a series of purpose-built lithium electric vehicles dubbed the LiV series. The LiV series is designed from the ground up at Hybrid Technologies’ Mooresville plant. The LiV Wise is aimed at the urban and commuter environments, and is larger and offers more interior space than the smart car, the conversion of which is called the LiV Dash. Hybrid Technologies has rounded out the LiV line with custom motorcycles, utility vehicles, mobility scooters, bicycles, and even a military vehicle. Hybrid Technologies plans to offer these vehicles to the U.S. market on a wider scale by 2009, and is especially focused on developing a system that will seamlessly integrate LiV Wise cars in small markets by 2009 and mass markets by 2010.

LiV™, Wise™, and Dash™ are trademarks of Hybrid Technologies Inc.
MINI Cooper® is a registered trademark of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.
PT Cruiser®, Town & Country®, and Crossfire® are registered trademarks of Chrysler Corporation.
smart® and fortwo® are registered trademarks of Daimler AG.

Ice accumulation is a serious safety hazard for aircraft. The presence of ice on airplane surfaces prevents the even flow of air, which increases drag and reduces lift. Ice on wings is especially dangerous during takeoff, when a sheet of ice the thickness of a compact disc can reduce lift by 25 percent or more. Ice accumulated on the tail of an aircraft (a spot often out of the pilot’s sight) can throw off a plane’s balance and force the craft to pitch downward, a phenomenon known as a tail stall.

Advanced rotorcraft airfoils developed by U.S. Army engineers working with NASA’s Langley Research Center were part of the Army’s risk reduction program for the LHX (Light Helicopter Experimental), the forerunner of the Comanche helicopter. The helicopter’s airfoils were designed as part of the Army’s basic research program and were tested in the 6- by 28-inch Transonic Tunnel and the Low-Turbulence Pressure Tunnel at Langley. While these airfoils did not get applied to the Boeing-Sikorsky Comanche rotor, they did advance the state of the art for rotorcraft airfoils.

Aviation is one of the safest means of transportation, but aviation safety professionals always work to make it safer. When flights operate outside of the norm, analysts perk up, as these flights are perhaps also operating outside the realm of safety. These out-of-the- ordinary flights, or atypicalities, are, therefore, the ones that need to be studied, and this is where NASA steps in.

Often times, when people think of NASA, they think of space travel. The first “A” in NASA, however, is for “Aeronautics,” and the Agency has always held as one of its tenets to explore, define, and solve issues in aircraft design. Just as often as NASA is associated with space travel, when people hear aeronautics, they often think of airplanes, but part of NASA’s aeronautics program is one of the most advanced rotorcraft design and test programs in the world.

Gridlock, bottlenecks, bumper-to-bumper jams—we all get caught in congestion at one time or another, as the rigors of road traffic are an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we do our best to get ahead, taking advantage of the slightest opening in the next lane, in anticipation that it is moving quicker than the snail’s pace of our current position. Other times, we just patiently ride it out, opting to sit back and get comfortable, fully surrendering to the sea of cars and trucks ahead.

What do NASA and ballistics have in common? More than the average person may know. Everyday, millions of Americans drive in vehicles, cross over bridges, and fly in airplanes without knowing just how important NASA's role in studying ballistics is in making these actions viable and safe for them.

Referred to as the lifeline for any space launch vehicle by NASA Space Launch Initiative Program Manager Warren Wiley, an umbilical is a large device that transports power, communications, instrument readings, and fluids such as propellants, pressurization gasses, and coolants from one source to another. Numerous launch vehicles, planetary systems, and rovers require umbilical mating. This process is a driving factor for dependable and affordable space access.

Seven years ago, NASA was in the planning stages of producing an aluminum alloy with higher strength and resistance at elevated temperatures for aerospace applications. At that time, a major automobile manufacturer happened to approach NASA for solutions to lowering engine emissions and the costs associated with developing aluminum engine pistons. The Space Agency realized the answers to the manufacturer's problems could lie within the proposed alloy.

Producing a new aircraft engine currently costs approximately $1 billion, with 3 years of development time for a commercial engine and 10 years for a military engine. The high development time and cost make it extremely difficult to transition advanced technologies for cleaner, quieter, and more efficient new engines. To reduce this time and cost, NASA created a vision for the future where designers would use high-fidelity computer simulations early in the design process in order to resolve critical design issues before building the expensive engine hardware.


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