Tech Briefs

Formation Flying of Tethered and Nontethered Spacecraft

A paper discusses the effect of the dynamic interaction taking place within a formation composed of a rigid and a deformable vehicle, and presents the concept of two or more tethered spacecraft flying in formation with one or more separated freeflying spacecraft.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components

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Ball Bearings Equipped for In Situ Lubrication on Demand

Operational lifetimes can be prolonged. In situ systems that provide fresh lubricants to ball/race contacts on demand have been developed to prolong the operational lives of ball bearings. These systems were originally intended to be incorporated into ball bearings in mechanisms that are required to operate in outer space for years, in conditions in which lubricants tend to deteriorate and/or evaporate. These systems may also be useful for similarly prolonging bearing lifetimes on Earth.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components

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Simulating a Direction-Finder Search for an ELT

A computer program simulates the operation of direction-finding equipment engaged in a search for an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) aboard an aircraft that has crashed. The simulated equipment is patterned after the equipment used by the Civil Air Patrol to search for missing aircraft. The program is designed to be used for training in radio direction-finding and/or searching for missing aircraft without incurring the expense and risk of using real aircraft and ground search resources. The program places a hidden ELT on a map and enables the user to search for the location of the ELT by moving a small aircraft image around the map while observing signal-strength and direction readings on a simulated direction-finding locator instrument. As the simulated aircraft is turned and moved on the map, the program updates the readings on the directionfinding instrument to reflect the current position and heading of the aircraft relative to the location of the ELT. The software is distributed in a zip file that contains an installation program. The software runs on the Microsoft Windows 9x, NT, and XP operating systems.

Posted in: Briefs, Software

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Telephone-Directory Program

eDirectory is a computer program that makes it possible to view entries in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) telephone directory by use of PalmPilot ™ (or equivalent) personal digital assistants. When one uses eDirectory, a single click causes the downloading of a current copy of the directory (which is updated nightly) from a server. The downloaded directory data can be sorted and searched. The program can append a “JPL” category and save directory information in a file that can be imported into the Palm Desktop™ software.

Posted in: Briefs, Software

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Processing GPS Occultation Data To Characterize Atmosphere

GOAS [Global Positioning System (GPS) Occultation Analysis System] is a computer program that accepts signaloccultation data from GPS receivers aboard low-Earth-orbiting satellites and processes the data to characterize the terrestrial atmosphere and, in somewhat less comprehensive fashion, the ionosphere. GOAS is very robust and can be run in an unattended semi-operational processing mode. It features sophisticated retrieval algorithms that utilize the amplitudes and phases of the GPS signals. It incorporates a module that, using an assumed atmospheric refractivity profile, simulates the effects of the retrieval processing system, including the GPS receiver. GOAS utilizes the GIPSY software for precise determination of orbits as needed for calibration. The GOAS output for the Earth’s troposphere and mid-to-lower stratosphere consists of high-resolution (<1 km) profiles of density, temperature, pressure, atmospheric refractivity, bending angles of signals, and water-vapor content versus altitude from the Earth’s surface to an altitude of 30 km. The GOAS output for the ionosphere consists of electron-density profiles from an altitude of about 50 km to the altitude of a satellite, plus parameters related to the rapidly varying structure of the electron density, particularly in the E layer of the ionosphere.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software

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Fuzzy Logic Engine

The Fuzzy Logic Engine is a software package that enables users to embed fuzzy-logic modules into their application programs. Fuzzy logic is useful as a means of formulating human expert knowledge and translating it into software to solve problems. Fuzzy logic provides flexibility for modeling relationships between input and output information and is distinguished by its robustness with respect to noise and variations in system parameters. In addition, linguistic fuzzy sets and conditional statements allow systems to make decisions based on imprecise and incomplete information. The user of the Fuzzy Logic Engine need not be an expert in fuzzy logic: it suffices to have a basic understanding of how linguistic rules can be applied to the user's problem. The Fuzzy Logic Engine is divided into two modules: (1) a graphical-inter-face software tool for creating linguistic fuzzy sets and conditional statements and (2) a fuzzy-logic software library for embedding fuzzy processing capability into current application programs. The graphical-interface tool was developed using the Tcl/Tk programming language. The fuzzy-logic software library was written in the C programming language.

Posted in: Briefs, Software

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Software for Secondary-School Learning About Robotics

The ROVer Ranch is an interactive computer program designed to help secondary-school students learn about space-program robotics and related basic scientific concepts by involving the students in simplified design and programming tasks that exercise skills in mathematics and science. The tasks involve building simulated robots and then observing how they behave. The program furnishes (1) programming tools that a student can use to assemble and program a simulated robot and (2) a virtual three-dimensional mission simulator for testing the robot. First, the ROVer Ranch presents fundamental information about robotics, mission goals, and facts about the mission environment. On the basis of this information, and using the aforementioned tools, the student assembles a robot by selecting parts from such subsystems as propulsion, navigation, and scientific tools, the student builds a simulated robot to accomplish its mission. Once the robot is built, it is programmed and then placed in a three-dimensional simulated environment. Success or failure in the simulation depends on the planning and design of the robot. Data and results of the mission are available in a summary log once the mission is concluded.

Posted in: Briefs, Software

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