Tech Briefs

Multi-Platform Avionics Simulator

Multi-Platform Avionics Simulator (MPAvSim) is a software library for development of simulations of avionic hardware. MPAvSim facilitates simulation of interactions between flight software and such avionic peripheral equipment as telecommunication devices, thrusters, pyrotechnic devices, motor controllers, and scientific instruments. MPAvSim focuses on the behavior of avionics as seen by flight software, rather than on performing high-fidelity simulations of dynamics. However, MPAvSim is easily integrable with other programs that do perform such simulations. MPAvSim makes it possible to do real-time partial hardware-in-the-loop simulations. An MPAvSim simulation consists of execution chains (see figure) represented by flow graphs of models, defined here as stateless procedures that do some work. During a simulation, MPAvSim walks the execution chain, running each model in turn. Using MPAvSim, flight software can be run against a spacecraft that is all simulation, all hardware, or part hardware and part simulation. With respect to a specific piece of hardware, either the hardware itself or its simulation can be plugged in without affecting the rest of the system. Thus, flight software can be tested before hardware is available, and as items of hardware become available, they can be substituted for their simulations, with minimal disruption.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Computer simulation, Architecture, Avionics

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The Synergistic Engineering Environment

The Synergistic Engineering Environment (SEE) is a system of software dedicated to aiding the understanding of space mission operations. The SEE can integrate disparate sets of data with analytical capabilities, geometric models of spacecraft, and a visualization environment (see figure), all contributing to the creation of an interactive simulation of spacecraft. Initially designed to satisfy needs pertaining to the International Space Station, the SEE has been broadened in scope to include spacecraft ranging from those in low orbit around the Earth to those on deep-space missions. The SEE includes analytical capabilities in rigid-body dynamics, kinematics, orbital mechanics, and payload operations. These capabilities enable a user to perform real-time interactive engineering analyses focusing on diverse aspects of operations, including flight attitudes and maneuvers, docking of visiting spacecraft, robotic operations, impingement of spacecraft-engine exhaust plumes, obscuration of instrumentation fields of view, communications, and alternative assembly configurations. The SEE continues to undergo development at Langley Research Center.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Computer simulation, Systems engineering, Spacecraft

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More About the Tetrahedral Unstructured Software System

TetrUSS is a comprehensive suite of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) programs that won the Software of the Year award in 1996 and has found increasing use in government, academia, and industry for solving realistic flow problems (especially in aerodynamics and aeroelastics of aircraft having complex shapes). TetrUSS includes not only programs for solving basic equations of flow but also programs that afford capabilities for efficient generation and utilization of computational grids and for graphical representation of computed flows (see figure). The 2004 version of the Tetrahedral Unstructured Software System (TetrUSS), which is one of two software systems reported in “NASA’s 2004 Software of the Year,” NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 28, No. 10 (October 2004), page 18, has been improved greatly since 1996. These improvements include (1) capabilities to simulate viscous flow by solving the Navier-Stokes equations on unstructured grids, (2) portability to personal computers from diverse manufacturers, (3) advanced models of turbulence, (4) a parallel-processing version of one of the unstructured-grid Navier-Stokes-equation-solving programs, and (5) advanced programs for generating unstructured grids.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Computational fluid dynamics, Mathematical models, Aerodynamics

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Computing Flows Using Chimera and Unstructured Grids

DRAGONFLOW is a computer program that solves the Navier-Stokes equations of flows in complexly shaped three- dimensional regions discretized by use of a direct replacement of arbitrary grid overlapping by nonstructured (DRAGON) grid. A DRAGON grid (see figure) is a combination of a chimera grid (a composite of structured subgrids) and a collection of unstructured subgrids. DRAGONFLOW incorporates modified versions of two prior Navier-Stokes-equationsolving programs: OVERFLOW, which is designed to solve on chimera grids; and USM3D, which is used to solve on unstructured grids. A master module controls the invocation of individual modules in the libraries. At each time step of a simulated flow, DRAGONFLOW is invoked on the chimera portion of the DRAGON grid in alternation with USM3D, which is invoked on the unstructured subgrids of the DRAGON grid. The USM3D and OVERFLOW modules then immediately exchange their solutions and other data. As a result, USM3D and OVERFLOW are coupled seamlessly.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Computational fluid dynamics, Mathematical models, Performance upgrades

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Avoiding Obstructions in Aiming a High-Gain Antenna

The High Gain Antenna Pointing and Obstruction Avoidance software performs computations for pointing a Mars Rover high-gain antenna for communication with Earth while (1) avoiding line-of-sight obstructions (the Martian terrain and other parts of the Rover) that would block communication and (2) taking account of limits in ranges of motion of antenna gimbals and of kinematic singularities in gimbal mechanisms. The software uses simplified geometric models of obstructions and of the trajectory of the Earth in the Martian sky(see figure). It treats all obstructions according to a generalized approach, computing and continually updating the time remaining before interception of each obstruction. In cases in which the gimbalmechanism design allows two aiming solutions, the algorithm chooses the solution that provides the longest obstruction-free Earth-tracking time. If the communication session continues until an obstruction is encountered in the current pointing solution and the other solution is now unobstructed, then the algorithm automatically switches to the other position. This software also notifies communication-managing software to cease transmission during the switch to the unobstructed position, resuming it when the switch is complete.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Mathematical models, Antennas, Computer software and hardware, Telecommunications

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Progress in Computational Simulation of Earthquakes

GeoFEST(P) is a computer program written for use in the QuakeSim project, which is devoted to development and improvement of means of computational simulation of earthquakes. GeoFEST(P) models interacting earthquake fault systems from the fault-nucleation to the tectonic scale. The development of GeoFEST(P) has involved coupling of two programs: GeoFEST and the Pyramid Adaptive Mesh Refinement Library. GeoFEST is a message-passinginterface- parallel code that utilizes a finite-element technique to simulate evolution of stress, fault slip, and plastic/ elastic deformation in realistic materials like those of faulted regions of the crust of the Earth. The products of such simulations are synthetic observable time-dependent surface deformations on time scales from days to decades. Pyramid Adaptive Mesh Refinement Library is a software library that facilitates the generation of computational meshes for solving physical problems. In an application of GeoFEST(P), a computational grid can be dynamically adapted as stress grows on a fault. Simulations on workstations using a few tens of thousands of stress and displacement finite elements can now be expanded to multiple millions of elements with greater than 98-percent scaled efficiency on over many hundreds of parallel processors (see figure).

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Computer simulation, Computer software and hardware, Terrain, Hazards and emergency management, Hazards and emergency operations

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Stochastic Evolutionary Algorithms for Planning Robot Paths

A computer program implements stochastic evolutionary algorithms for planning and optimizing collision-free paths for robots and their jointed limbs. Stochastic evolutionary algorithms can be made to produce acceptably close approximations to exact, optimal solutions for path-planning problems while often demanding much less computation than do exhaustive-search and deterministic inverse-kinematics algorithms that have been used previously for this purpose. Hence, the present software is better suited for application aboard robots having limited computing capabilities (see figure). The stochastic aspect lies in the use of simulated annealing to (1) prevent trapping of an optimization algorithm in local minima of an energylike error measure by which the fitness of a trial solution is evaluated while (2) ensuring that the entire multidimensional configuration and parameter space of the path-planning problem is sampled efficiently with respect to both robot joint angles and computation time. Simulated annealing is an established technique for avoiding local minima in multidimensional optimization problems, but has not, until now, been applied to planning collision-free robot paths by use of low-power computers.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Mathematical models, Computer software and hardware, Kinematics, Robotics

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