Tech Briefs

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.

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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.

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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. 

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Nanoactuators Based on Electrostatic Forces on Dielectrics

Large force-to-mass ratios could be achieved at the nanoscale. Nanoactuators of a proposed type would exploit the forces exerted by electric fields on dielectric materials. As used here, “nanoactuators” includes motors, manipulators, and other active mechanisms that have dimensions of the order of nanometers and/or are designed to manipulate objects that have dimensions of the order of nanometers.

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Robot Forearm and Dexterous Hand

The hand is highly anthropomorphic and even includes a folding palm. An electromechanical hand-and-forearm assembly has been developed for incorporation into an anthropomorphic robot that would be used in outer space. The assembly is designed to offer manual dexterity comparable to that of a hand inside an astronaut’s suit; thus, the assembly may also be useful as a prosthesis or as an end effector on an industrial robot.

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Synthetic Bursae for Robots

Functions would be similar to those of natural bursae. Synthetic bursae are under development for incorporation into robot joints that are actuated by motor-driven cables in a manner similar to that of arthropod joints actuated by muscle-driven tendons. Like natural bursae, the synthetic bursae would serve as cushions and friction reducers.

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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.

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