Tech Briefs

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.

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Blade-Pitch Control for Quieting Tilt-Rotor Aircraft

Actively induced harmonic blade-pitch oscillations reduce BVI noise. A method of reducing the noise generated by a tilt-rotor aircraft during descent involves active control of the blade pitch of the rotors. This method is related to prior such noise- reduction methods, of a type denoted generally as higher-harmonic control (HHC), in which the blade pitch is made to oscillate at a harmonic of the frequency of rotation of the rotor.

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Solar Array Panels With Dust-Removal Capability

Inexpensive, low-power piezoelectric buzzers would be built in. It has been proposed to incorporate piezoelectric vibrational actuators into the structural supports of solar photovoltaic panels, for the purpose of occasionally inducing vibrations in the panels in order to loosen accumulated dust. Provided that the panels were tilted, the loosened dust would slide off under its own weight. Originally aimed at preventing obscuration of photovoltaic cells by dust accumulating in the Martian environment, the proposal may also offer an option for the design of solar photovoltaic panels for unattended operation at remote locations on Earth.

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Autonomous Environment-Monitoring Networks

These neural networks recognize novel features in streams of input data. Autonomous environment-monitoring networks (AEMNs) are artificial neural networks that are specialized for recognizing familiarity and, conversely, novelty. Like a biological neural network, an AEMN receives a constant stream of inputs. For purposes of computational implementation, the inputs are vector representations of the information of interest. As long as the most recent input vector is similar to the previous input vectors, no action is taken. Action is taken only when a novel vector is encountered. Whether a given input vector is regarded as novel depends on the previous vectors; hence, the same input vector could be regarded as familiar or novel, depending on the context of previous input vectors. AEMNs have been proposed as means to enable exploratory robots on remote planets to recognize novel features that could merit closer scientific attention. AEMNs could also be useful for processing data from medical instrumentation for automated monitoring or diagnosis.

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Improved Discrete Approximation of Laplacian of Gaussian

This method reduces the amount of circuitry needed for filtering of video data. An improved method of computing a discrete approximation of the Laplacian of a Gaussian convolution of an image has been devised. The primary advantage of the method is that without substantially degrading the accuracy of the end result, it reduces the amount of information that must be processed and thus reduces the amount of circuitry needed to perform the Laplacian-of-Gaussian (LOG) operation.

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Utilizing Expert Knowledge in Estimating Future STS Costs

A method of estimating the costs of future space transportation systems (STSs) involves classical activity-based cost (ABC) modeling combined with systematic utilization of the knowledge and opinions of experts to extend the process-flow knowledge of existing systems to systems that involve new materials and/or new architectures. The expert knowledge is particularly helpful in filling gaps that arise in computational models of processes because of inconsistencies in historical cost data. Heretofore, the costs of planned STSs have been estimated following a "top-down" approach that tends to force the architectures of new systems to incorporate process flows like those of the space shuttles. In this ABC-based method, one makes assumptions about the processes, but otherwise follows a "bottoms up" approach that does not force the new system architecture to incorporate a space-shuttle-like process flow. Prototype software has been developed to implement this method. Through further development of software, it should be possible to extend the method beyond the space program to almost any setting in which there is a need to estimate the costs of a new system and to extend the applicable knowledge base in order to make the estimate.

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More About the Phase-Synchroized Enhancement Method

A report presents further details regarding the subject matter of "Phase-Synchronized Enhancement Method for Engine Diagnostics" (MFS-26435), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 22, No. 1 (January 1998), page 54. To recapitulate: The phase-synchronized enhancement method (PSEM) involves the digital resampling of a quasi-periodic signal in synchronism with the instantaneous phase of one of its spectral components. This resampling transforms the quasi-periodic signal into a periodic one more amenable to analysis. It is particularly useful for diagnosis of a rotating machine through analysis of vibration spectra that include components at the fundamental and harmonics of a slightly fluctuating rotation frequency. The report discusses the machinery-signal-analysis problem, outlines the PSEM algorithms, presents the mathematical basis of the PSEM, and presents examples of application of the PSEM in some computational simulations.

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