Tech Briefs

Collaborative Planning of Robotic Exploration

The Science Activity Planner (SAP) software system includes an uplink-planning component, which enables collaborative planning of activities to be undertaken by an exploratory robot on a remote planet or on Earth. Included in the uplink-planning component is the SAP-Uplink Browser, which enables users to load multiple spacecraft activity plans into a single window, compare them, and merge them. The uplink-planning component includes a subcomponent that implements the Rover Markup Language Activity Planning format (RML-AP), based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) format that enables the representation, within a single document, of planned spacecraft and robotic activities together with the scientific reasons for the activities. Each such document is highly parseable and can be validated easily. Another subcomponent of the uplink-planning component is the Activity Dictionary Markup Language (ADML), which eliminates the need for two mission activity dictionaries — one in a human-readable format and one in a machine-readable format. Style sheets that have been developed along with the ADML format enable users to edit one dictionary in a user-friendly environment without compromising the machine-read-ability of the format.

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Tools for Administration of a UNIX-Based Network

Several computer programs have been developed to enable efficient administration of a large, heterogeneous, UNIX-based computing and communication network that includes a variety of computers connected to a variety of sub-networks. One program provides secure software tools for administrators to create, modify, lock, and delete accounts of specific users. This program also provides tools for users to change their UNIX passwords and log-in shells. These tools check for errors. Another program comprises a client and a server component that, together, provide a secure mechanism to create, modify, and query quota levels on a network file system (NFS) mounted by use of the VERITAS File System software. The client software resides on an internal secure computer with a secure Web interface; one can gain access to the client software from any authorized computer capable of running web-browser software. The server software resides on a UNIX computer configured with the VERITAS software system. Directories where VERITAS quotas are applied are NFS-mounted. Another program is a Web-based, client/server Internet Protocol (IP) address tool that facilitates maintenance lookup of information about IP addresses for a network of computers.

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Evaluating Performance of Components

Parallel Component Performance Benchmarks is a computer program developed to aid the evaluation of the Common Component Architecture (CCA) — a software architecture, based on a component model, that was conceived to foster high-performance computing, including parallel computing. More specifically, this program compares the performances (principally by measuring computing times) of componentized versus conventional versions of the Parallel Pyramid 2D Adaptive Mesh Refinement library — a software library that is used to generate computational meshes for solving physical problems and that is typical of software libraries in use at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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Computationally-Efficient Minimum-Time Aircraft Routes in the Presence of Winds

Minimum-time routes are achieved using 10 times less computational effort. A computationally efficient algorithm for minimizing the flight time of an aircraft in a variable wind field has been invented. The algorithm, referred to as Neighboring Optimal Wind Routing (NOWR), is based upon neighboring-optimal- control (NOC) concepts and achieves minimum-time paths by adjusting aircraft heading according to wind conditions at an arbitrary number of wind measurement points along the flight route. The NOWR algorithm may either be used in a fast-time mode to compute minimum-time routes prior to flight, or may be used in a feedback mode to adjust aircraft heading in real-time. By traveling minimum-time routes instead of direct great-circle (direct) routes, flights across the United States can save an average of about 7 minutes, and as much as one hour of flight time during periods of strong jet-stream winds. The neighboring optimal routes computed via the NOWR technique have been shown to be within 1.5 percent of the absolute minimum-time routes for flights across the continental United States. On a typical 450-MHz Sun Ultra workstation, the NOWR algorithm produces complete minimum-time routes in less than 40 milliseconds. This corresponds to a rate of 25 optimal routes per second. The closest comparable optimization technique runs approximately 10 times slower.

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Fuels Containing Methane or Natural Gas in Solution

A blend of gasoline and natural gas offers advantages over alternative fuels. While exploring ways of producing better fuels for propulsion of a spacecraft on the Mars sample return mission, a researcher at Johnson Space Center (JSC) devised a way of blending fuel by combining methane or natural gas with a second fuel to produce a fuel that can be maintained in liquid form at ambient temperature and under moderate pressure. The use of such a blended fuel would be a departure for both spacecraft engines and terrestrial internal combustion engines. For spacecraft, it would enable reduction of weights on long flights. For the automotive industry on Earth, such a fuel could be easily distributed and could be a less expensive, more efficient, and cleaner-burning alternative to conventional fossil fuels.

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Direct Electrolytic Deposition of Mats of MnxOy Nanowires

These mats of nanowires can be used as electrodes for batteries and capacitors. Mats of free-standing manganese oxide (MnxOy ) nanowires have been fabricated as experimental electrode materials for rechargeable electro- chemical power cells and capacitors. Because they are free-standing, the wires in these mats are electrochemically accessible. The advantage of the mat- of-nanowires configuration, relative to other configurations of electrode materials, arises from the combination of narrowness and high areal number density of the wires. This combination offers both high surface areas for contact with electrolytes and short paths for diffusion of ions into and out of the electrodes, thereby making it possible to charge and discharge at rates higher than would otherwise be possible and, consequently, to achieve greater power densities.

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Personal Radiation Protection System

A report describes the personal radiation protection system (PRPS), which has been invented for use on the International Space Station and other spacecraft. The PRPS comprises walls that can be erected inside spacecraft, where and when needed, to reduce the amount of radiation to which personnel are exposed. The basic structural modules of the PRPS are pairs of 1-in. (2.54-cm)-thick plates of high-density polyethylene equipped with fasteners. The plates of each module are assembled with a lap joint. The modules are denoted bricks because they are designed to be stacked with overlaps, in a manner reminiscent of bricks, to build 2-in.(5.08-cm)-thick walls of various lengths and widths. The bricks are of two varieties: one for flat wall areas and one for corners. The corner bricks are specialized adaptations of the flat-area bricks that make it possible to join walls perpendicular to each other. Bricks are attached to spacecraft structures and to each other by use of straps that can be tightened to increase the strengths and stiffnesses of joints.

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