Physical Sciences

Role of Meteorology in Flights of a Solar-Powered Airplane

Meteorological support helped ensure safety and success of experimental high-altitude flights.

In the summer of 2001, the Helios prototype solar-powered uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV) [a lightweight, remotely piloted airplane] was deployed to the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), at Kauai, Hawaii, in an attempt to fly to altitudes above 100,000 ft (30.48 km). The goal of flying a UAV to such high altitudes has been designated a level-I milestone of the NASA Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. In support of this goal, meteorologists from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center were sent to PMRF, as part of the flight crew, to provide current and forecast weather information to the pilots, mission directors, and planners. Information of this kind is needed to optimize flight conditions for peak aircraft performance and to enable avoidance of weather conditions that could adversely affect safety.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Data exchange, Data exchange, Weather and climate, Solar energy, Unmanned aerial vehicles

Electrochemical, H2O2-Boosted Catalytic Oxidation System

This system offers several advantages over O2-boosted systems.

An improved water-sterilizing aqueous-phase catalytic oxidation system (APCOS) is based partly on the electrochemical generation of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). This H2O2-boosted system offers significant improvements over prior dissolved-oxygen water-sterilizing systems in the way in which it increases oxidation capabilities, supplies H2O2 when needed, reduces the total organic carbon (TOC) content of treated water to a low level, consumes less energy than prior systems do, reduces the risk of contamination, and costs less to operate. This system was developed as a variant of part of an improved waste-management subsystem of the life-support system of a spacecraft. Going beyond its original intended purpose, it offers the advantage of being able to produce H2O2 on demand for surface sterilization and/or decontamination: this is a major advantage inasmuch as the benign byproducts of this H2O2 system, unlike those of systems that utilize other chemical sterilants, place no additional burden of containment control on other spacecraft air- or water-reclamation systems.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Water reclamation, Energy conservation, Life support systems, Spacecraft

Permanent Sequestration of Emitted Gases in the Form of Clathrate Hydrates

Hydrates would be formed under natural conditions.

Underground sequestration has been proposed as a novel method of permanent disposal of harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. The method was conceived primarily for disposal of carbon dioxide (CO2, greenhouse gas causing global warming), but could also be applied to CO, H2S, NOx, and chorofluorocarbons (CFCs, which are super greenhouse gases). The method is based on the fact that clathrate hydrates (e.g., CO2×6H2O) form naturally from the substances in question (e.g., CO2) and liquid water in the pores of sub-permafrost rocks at stabilizing pressures and temperatures. The proposed method would be volumetrically efficient: In the case of CO2, each volume of hydrate can contain as much as 184 volumes of gas.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Carbon dioxide, Environmental technologies, Greenhouse gas emissions, Soils

Miniature Radioisotope Thermoelectric Power Cubes

These devices could supply power at extremely low temperatures for years.

Cube-shaped thermoelectric devices energized by a particles from radioactive decay of 244Cm have been proposed as long-lived sources of power. These power cubes are intended especially for incorporation into electronic circuits that must operate in dark, extremely cold locations (e.g., polar locations or deep underwater on Earth, or in deep interplanetary space). Unlike conventional radioisotope thermoelectric generators used heretofore as central power sources in some spacecraft, the proposed power cubes would be small enough (volumes would range between 0.1 and 0.2 cm3) to play the roles of batteries that are parts of, and dedicated to, individual electronic-circuit packages. Unlike electrochemical batteries, these power cubes would perform well at low temperatures. They would also last much longer: given that the half-life of 244Cm is 18 years, a power cube could remain adequate as a power source for years, depending on the power demand in its particular application.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Energy storage systems, Energy storage systems, Cold weather, Nuclear energy, Electro-thermal engines, Spacecraft

Controllable Sonar Lenses and Prisms Based on ERFs

Compact devices without moving parts would focus and steer acoustic beams.

Sonar-beam-steering devices of the proposed type would contain no moving parts and would be considerably smaller and less power-hungry, relative to conventional multiple-beam sonar arrays. The proposed devices are under consideration for installation on future small autonomous underwater vehicles because the sizes and power demands of conventional multiple-beam arrays are excessive, and motors used in single-beam mechanically scanned systems are also not reliable.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Design processes, Energy conservation, Acoustics, Acoustics, Autonomous vehicles, Marine vehicles and equipment

The StarLight Space Interferometer

Two papers describe the StarLight space interferometer — a Michelson interferometer that would be implemented by two spacecraft flying in formation. The StarLight formation flying interferometer project has been testing and demonstrating engineering concepts for a new generation of space interferometers that would be employed in a search for extrasolar planets and in astrophysical investigations. As described in the papers, the original StarLight concept called for three spacecraft, and the main innovation embodied is a modification that makes it possible to reduce complexity by eliminating the third spacecraft. The main features of the modification are (1) introduction of an optical delay line on one spacecraft and (2) controlling the flying formation such that the two spacecraft are located at two points along a specified parabola so as to define the required baseline of specified length (which could be varied up to 125 m) perpendicular to the axis of the parabola. One of the papers presents a detailed description of the optical layout and discusses computational modeling of the performance; the other paper presents an overview of the requirements for operation and design, the overall architecture, and subsystems.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Computer simulation, Downsizing, Architecture, Imaging, Imaging and visualization, Architecture, Imaging, Imaging and visualization, Spacecraft

Champagne Heat Pump

Relatively safe and environmentally benign working fluids can be used.

The term "champagne heat pump" denotes a developmental heat pump that exploits a cycle of absorption and desorption of carbon dioxide in an alcohol or other organic liquid. Whereas most heat pumps in common use in the United States are energized by mechanical compression, the champagne heat pump is energized by heating.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Carbon dioxide, Heat exchangers, Heat exchangers, Product development, Pumps

Freeze-Tolerant Condensers

Two designs offer similar advantages.

Two condensers designed for use in dissipating heat carried by working fluids feature two-phase, self-adjusting configurations such that their working lengths automatically vary to suit their input power levels and/or heat-sink temperatures. A key advantage of these condensers is that they can function even if the temperatures of their heat sinks fall below the freezing temperatures of their working fluids and the fluids freeze. The condensers can even be restarted from the frozen condition.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Cold weather, Cooling, Fluid power systems

Sensor for Monitoring Nanodevice-Fabrication Plasmas

Temperature and trace amounts of chemical species could be measured in situ.

 The term "plasma process diagnostics" (PPD) refers to a spectroscopic technique and sensing hardware that have been proposed for monitoring plasma processes used to fabricate electronic devices that feature sizes as small as several nanometers. Nanometer dimensions are characteristic of the quantum level of miniaturization, where single impurity atoms or molecules can drastically change the local properties of the nanostructures. Such changes may be purposely used in nanoscale design but may also be extremely damaging or cause improper operation of the fabricated devices. Determination of temperature and densities of reactants near the developing features is important, since the structural synthesis is affected by characteristics of the local microenvironment. Consequently, sensors capable of nonintrusive monitoring with high sensitivity and high resolution are essential for real-time atomistic control of reaction kinetics and minimizing trace contamination in plasma processes used to fabricate electronic nanodevices. Such process-monitoring sensors are required to be compact, multiparametric, and immune to the harsh environments of processing plasmas. PPD is intended to satisfy these requirements.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Diagnostics, Fabrication, Gases, Nanotechnology

Electrokinetic In Situ Treatment of Metal-Contaminated Soil

This is an alternative to excavation and to techniques dependent on hydraulic conductivity.

 An electrokinetic technique has been developed as a means of in situ remediation of soils, sludges, and sediments that are contaminated with heavy metals. Examples of common metal contaminants that can be removed by this technique include cadmium, chromium, zinc, lead, mercury, and radionuclides. Some organic contaminants can also be removed by this technique.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Land pollution, Soils, Conductivity, Metals

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