Mechanical & Fluid Systems

Active Response Gravity Offload and Method

The technology has commercial possibilities wherever individuals have to interact with heavy objects within a confined volume.

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

To train astronauts to live and work in the weightless environment on the International Space Station, NASA employs a number of techniques and facilities that simulate microgravity. Engineers at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) have developed a new system called the Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS) that provides a simulated reduced gravity environment within a confined interior volume for astronauts to move about and/or equipment to be moved about as if they were in a different gravity field. Each astronaut/item is connected to an overhead crane system that senses their actions (walking or jumping, for example) and then lifts, moves, and descends them as if they had performed the action in a specified reduced gravity.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Education, Education and training, Automation, Test facilities

Fluid Harmonic Absorber

These devices can be used in multistory buildings, towers, bridges, offshore oil rigs, water tanks, and marine applications.

Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Fluid Structure Coupling (FSC) technology is a highly efficient and passive method to control the way fluids and structures communicate and dictate the behavior of a system. This technology has the demonstrated potential to mitigate a multitude of different types of vibration issues, and can be applied anywhere internal or external fluids interact with physical structures. For example, in a multistory building, water from a rooftop tank or swimming pool could be used to mitigate seismic or wind-induced vibration by simply adding an FSC device that controls the way the building engages the water.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Water, Vibration, Vibration

Variable-Aperture Reciprocating Reed Valve

Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center engineers have developed a new reed valve for controlling fluid flow back and forth between two chambers. The VARR valve provides two-way flow that is proportional to flow demand. As the pressure gradient builds on one side, the reed valve responds by opening an amount that is proportionate to the gradient, or demand, allowing bidirectional flow. Some mechanical and fluid systems that rely on the controlled flow of fluids between chambers will benefit from the new design. Compared to current fixed-orifice devices, VARR may expand the performance envelope by offering a more continuous flow response in applications in which the pressure environment is constantly changing. Proportional two-way flow can enable a fine-tuned system response to pressure building on one side of the valve. In these changing gradient conditions, the reed valve is better than fixed-sized orifices, which are optimized for one flow condition and are likely to over- or under-restrict flow for all other flow gradients.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Computational fluid dynamics, Valves, Hydraulic systems

Passive, Integrated, Sublimator-Driven Coldplate

Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama

Spacecraft thermal control systems typically perform three key functions — heat acquisition, heat transport, and heat rejection — in addition to those of insulation, heat generation, and heat storage. In a typical pumped fluid-loop spacecraft thermal control system, heat is acquired from heat-generating equipment via coldplates, transported via pumps and cooling lines, and rejected to space via radiators, evaporators, and/or sublimators. Combining all three of these functions into one hardware component can provide system mass savings by combining multiple pieces of hardware into a single piece, and providing additional fault tolerance without the need for redundant hardware.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), Thermal management, Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), Thermal management, Hardware, Spacecraft


This innovation is potentially useful for scientific experiments at the edge of space or autonomous environmental monitoring in extreme conditions.

John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Experiments in space can be expensive and infrequent, but Earth’s upper atmosphere is accessible via large scientific balloons, and can be used to address many of the same fundamental questions. Scientific balloons are made of a thin polyethylene film inflated with helium, and can carry atmospheric sampling instruments on a gondola suspended underneath the balloon that eventually is returned to the surface on a parachute. For stratospheric flights between 30 and 40 km above sea level, balloons typically reach the float altitude 2-3 hours after launch, and travel in the direction of the prevailing winds.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Weather and climate, Test equipment and instrumentation, Unmanned aerial vehicles

Hydraulic Pressure Distribution System

This mechanism enhances the performance of mechanically impeding elements in an on-command operational exoskeleton.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Human operation in space over long time periods causes bone and muscle deterioration, so there is a need for countermeasures in the form of physical exercises consisting of working against controlled resistivity. Generally, there are three types of exercise machines that are used by space crews to maintain their fitness: the Crew Exercise Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS), the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System/Second ISS Treadmill (TVIS/T2), and the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED). These machines have the limitations of very large mass (some weigh about a ton), large operational volumes, cumbersome design, and the need to compensate the generated vibrations and large shifting of the center of mass. They also require interrupting the astronauts’ duties to perform the exercises, as well as requiring periodic costly maintenance. The disclosed de vice provides key elements to enabling the design and operation of compact exercise machines that overcome many of the disadvantages of the current exercise machines found on space vehicles/stations.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Downsizing, Medical, health, and wellness, Personnel, Lightweighting

Dust Tolerant Connectors

The ruggedized housing for electrical or fluid connectors is designed to withstand harsh environments and rough handling.

John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has developed a novel ruggedized housing for an electrical or fluid umbilical connector that prevents intrusion of dust, sand, dirt, mud, and moisture during field use under harsh conditions. The technology consists of a pair of hand-sized protective umbilical interface housings, each containing a connector with an integrated end cap. When the end cap covers the connector, the connector is protected. Each housing has a unique lever assembly connected to the end cap that, when squeezed, flips the end cap up to expose the connector. When in the up position, the two end caps face each other. To mate the connectors, the levers on both housings are squeezed, raising the end caps, and the two umbilicals are joined and twisted to couple them. Once the connectors are mated, the levers on both housings are released. This simultaneously seals both the umbilicals and the end caps. When dealing with cryogenic connectors, a purge can be applied to the housings to prevent icing when the connectors are demated.

Posted in: Briefs, Fluid Handling, Mechanical Components, Automation, Connectors and terminals, Connectors and terminals, Humidity, Particulate matter (PM), Seals and gaskets, Icing and ice detection

Systems, Methods, and Apparatus of a Low-Conductance Silicon Micro-Leak for Mass Spectrometer Inlet

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Mass spectrometers on atmospheric entry probes require a method for introducing gas from high-pressure ambient regions to the vacuum of the mass spectrometer interior.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Spectroscopy, Spectroscopy, Gases, Valves, Test equipment and instrumentation

In-Situ Load System for Calibrating and Validating Aerodynamic Properties of Scaled Aircraft in Ground-Based Aerospace Testing Applications

This portfolio of technologies can be used in wind-tunnel force balance applications, and robotics applications such as rovers or prosthetic shoulder joints.

Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

NASA’s Langley Research Center has developed three techniques and systems to calibrate and validate wind-tunnel force balances and other multi-component force transducers. The first is the Single Vector Calibration System (SVS), which uses a single deadweight for calibration and has been in active use at NASA for over 15 years. The second system is the In-Situ Load System (ILS). The ILS is based on the same fundamental concept as the SVS, but is designed for in-situ verification just prior to testing. Building off of the SVS and ILS, the third system is the Variable Acceleration Force Calibration System (VACS), which shares the single-vector force application concept, but generates those forces differently by keeping the mass constant and varying the acceleration. These techniques and systems provide for less complex and less labor-intensive calibration and verification of multi-component force transducers.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Calibration, Scale models, Wind tunnel tests, Aerodynamics

Release of a Stuck Solar Array or Antenna

Several options are examined that may also be useful in remotely controlled terrestrial environments.

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Satellite launches experience approximately one deployment failure every two years. These failures include a solar array or antenna that fails to deploy because it is stuck due to a mechanism failure, or is snagged by a cable or thermal blanket. Knowledge of the exact circumstances of the deployable failure is limited. Ground commanding of the spacecraft is conducted in an attempt to free the stuck deployable.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Automation, Failure analysis, Antennas, Antennas, Robotics, Satellites

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