Physical Sciences

Swarms of Micron-Sized Sensors

A paper presents the concept of swarms of micron-sized and smaller carriers of sensing equipment, denoted generally as controllable granular matter, to be used in exploring remote planets and interplanetary space. The design and manufacture of controllable granular matter would exploit advances in microelectromechanical systems and nanotechnology. Depending on specific designs and applications, controllable granular matter could have characteristics like those of powders, sands, or aerosols, which would be dispersed into the environments to be explored: For example, sensory grains could be released into orbit around a planet, spread out over ground, or dispersed into wind or into a body of liquid. The grains would thus become integral parts of multiphase environments, where they would function individually and/or collectively to gather information about the environments. In cases of clouds of grains dispersed in outer space, it may be feasible to use laser beams to shape the clouds to perform specific functions. To enable the full utilization of controllable granular matter, it is necessary to advance the knowledge of the dynamics and controllable characteristics of both individual grains and the powders, sands, or aerosols of which they are parts.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Microelectricmechanical device, Microelectromechanical devices, Sensors and actuators, Microelectricmechanical device, Microelectromechanical devices, Sensors and actuators, Product development, Test equipment and instrumentation, Spacecraft

Three-Dimensional Venturi Sensor for Measuring Extreme Winds

Advantageous features include ruggedness, rapid response, and high dynamic range.

A three-dimensional (3D) Venturi sensor is being developed as a compact, rugged means of measuring wind vectors having magnitudes of as much as 300 mph (134 m/s). This sensor also incorporates auxiliary sensors for measuring temperature from -40 to +120 °F (-40 to +49 °C), relative humidity from 0 to 100 percent, and atmospheric pressure from 846 to 1,084 millibar (85 to 108 kPa).

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Measurements, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Weather and climate, Aerodynamics

Oxygen-Partial-Pressure Sensor for Aircraft Oxygen Mask

Vibration of the mask against the wearer's nose warns of low oxygen pressure.

A device that generates an alarm when the partial pressure of oxygen decreases to less than a preset level has been developed to help prevent hypoxia in a pilot or other crewmember of a military or other high-performance aircraft. Loss of oxygen partial pressure can be caused by poor fit of the mask or failure of a hose or other component of an oxygen-distribution system. The deleterious physical and mental effects of hypoxia cause the loss of a military aircraft and crew every few years.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Safety critical systems, Safety critical systems, Oxygen equipment, Oxygen equipment, Occupant protection, Hypersonic and supersonic aircraft

Automated Serial Sectioning for 3D Reconstruction

Automation increases speed and reduces uncertainty in alignment.

Figure 1 depicts some aspects of an apparatus and method for automated serial sectioning of a specimen of a solder, aluminum, or other relatively soft opaque material. The apparatus includes a small milling machine (micromiller) that takes precise, shallow cuts (increments of depth as small as 1 μm) to expose successive sections. A microscope equipped with an electronic camera, mounted in a fixed position on the micromiller, takes pictures of the newly exposed specimen surface at each increment of depth. The images are digitized, and the resulting data are subsequently processed to reconstruct three-dimensional (3D) features of the specimen.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Mathematical models, Imaging, Imaging and visualization, Microscopy, Imaging, Imaging and visualization, Microscopy, Milling

Tilt-Sensitivity Analysis for Space Telescopes

A report discusses a computational- simulation study of phase- front propagation in the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), in which space telescopes would transmit and receive metrological laser beams along 5-Gm interferometer arms. The main objective of the study was to determine the sensitivity of the average phase of a beam with respect to fluctuations in pointing of the beam. The simulations account for the effects of obscurations by a secondary mirror and its supporting struts in a telescope, and for the effects of optical imperfections (especially tilt) of a telescope. A significant innovation introduced in this study is a methodology, applicable to space telescopes in general, for predicting the effects of optical imperfections. This methodology involves a Monte Carlo simulation in which one generates many random wavefront distortions and studies their effects through computational simulations of propagation. Then one performs a statistical analysis of the results of the simulations and computes the functional relations among such important design parameters as the sizes of distortions and the mean value and the variance of the loss of performance. These functional relations provide information regarding position and orientation tolerances relevant to design and operation.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Computer simulation, Antennas, Lasers, Antennas, Lasers

Study of Dislocation-Ordered InₓGa₁₋ₓAs/GaAs Quantum Dots

A report describes an experimental study of dislocation-induced spatial ordering of quantum dots (QDs) comprising nanometer-sized InxGa1–xAs islands surrounded by GaAs. Metastable hetero-epitaxial structures were grown by molecular-beam epitaxy of InxGa1–xAs onto n+ GaAs and semi-insulating GaAs substrates. Then the structures were relaxed during a post-growth annealing/self-organizing process leading to the formation of surface undulations that acted as preferential sites for the nucleation of QDs. Structural effects of annealing times and temperatures on the strain-relaxed InxGa1–xAs/GaAs and the subsequent spatial ordering of the QDs were analyzed by atomic-force microscopy and transmission electron microscopy. Continuous-wave spectral and time-resolved photoluminescence (PL) measurements were performed to study the effects, upon optical properties, of increased QD positional ordering, increased QD uniformity, and proximity of QDs to arrays of dislocations. PL spectral peaks of ordered QD structures formed on strain-relaxed InxGa1–xAs/GaAs layers were found to be narrower than those of structures not so formed and ordered. Rise and decay times of time-resolved PL were found to be lower at lower temperatures — apparently as a consequence of decreased carrier-transport times within the barriers surrounding the QDs.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Measurements, Fabrication, Forming, Nanomaterials, Test procedures

Alternative Electrochemical Systems for Ozonation of Water

Hydrogen gas, ozone gas, and ozonated water can be delivered under pressure.

Electrochemical systems that are especially well suited for the small-scale generation of ozone and ozonated water for local use have been invented. These systems can operate with very little maintenance, and the only inputs needed during operation are electric power and water. These systems are closely related to the ones described in "Electrochemical Systems Generate Ozone and Ozonated Water" (MSC-23046), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 26, No. 3 (March 2002), page 68. Ozonated water produced by these systems can be used in diverse industrial applications: A few examples include sterilization in the brewing industry, general disinfection, and treatment of sewage and recycled water.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Water, Water treatment, Electric power, Industrial vehicles and equipment

Magnetic Field Would Reduce Electron Backstreaming in Ion Thrusters

Erosion of accelerator grid could also be reduced.

The imposition of a magnetic field has been proposed as a means of reducing the electron backstreaming problem in ion thrusters.

Electron backstreaming refers to the backflow of electrons into the ion thruster. Back- streaming electrons are accelerated by the large potential difference that exists between the ion- thruster acceleration electrodes, which otherwise accelerates positive ions out of the engine to develop thrust. The energetic beam formed by the backstreaming electrons can damage the discharge cathode, as well as other discharge surfaces upstream of the acceleration electrodes. The electron-backstreaming condition occurs when the center potential of the ion accelerator grid is no longer sufficiently negative to prevent electron diffusion back into the ion thruster. This typically occurs over extended periods of operation as accelerator-grid apertures enlarge due to erosion. As a result, ion thrusters are required to operate at increasingly negative accelerator-grid voltages in order to prevent electron backstreaming. These larger negative voltages give rise to higher accelerator-grid erosion rates, which in turn accelerates aperture enlargement. Electron backstreaming due to accelerator-grid-hole enlargement has been identified as a failure mechanism that will limit ion-thruster service lifetime.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Nuclear energy, Magnetic materials, Spacecraft

MEMS-Based Piezoelectric/Electrostatic Inchworm Actuator

Nanometer steps could be concatenated into overall travel of hundreds of microns.

A proposed inchworm actuator, to be designed and fabricated according to the principles of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), would effect linear motion characterized by steps as small as nanometers and an overall range of travel of hundreds of microns. Potential applications for actuators like this one include precise positioning of optical components and active suppression of noise and vibration in scientific instruments, conveyance of wafers in the semiconductor industry, precise positioning for machine tools, and positioning and actuation of microsurgical instruments.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Calibration, Microelectricmechanical device, Microelectromechanical devices, Sensors and actuators, Microelectricmechanical device, Microelectromechanical devices, Sensors and actuators

Predicting and Preventing Incipient Flameout in Combustors

Increases in acoustic signals could trigger rapid adjustments to prevent flameouts.

A method of predicting and preventing incipient flameout in a combustor has been proposed. The method should be applicable to a variety of liquid- and gas-fueled combustors in furnaces and turbine engines. Until now, there have been methods of detecting flameouts after they have occurred, but there has been no way of predicting incipient flameouts and, hence, no way of acting in time to prevent them. Prevention of flameout could not only prevent damage to equipment but, in the case of aircraft turbine engines, could also save lives.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), Prognostics, Combustion chambers, Gas turbines, Fire prevention

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