Tech Briefs

Tool for Torquing Circular Electrical-Connector Collars

A simple tool exerts a strong grip. An improved tool has been devised for applying torque to lock and unlock knurled collars on circular electrical connectors. The tool was originally designed for, and used by, astronauts working in outer space on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The tool is readily adaptable to terrestrial use in installing and removing the same or similar circular electrical connectors as well as a wide variety of other cylindrical objects, the tightening and loosening of which entail considerable amounts of torque.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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Retaining Device for the Interior Structure of a Spacecraft Payload

Device protects without penalizing interior space. A device denoted as a bumper assembly for a spacecraft payload container comprises an interior structure surrounded by skin or some other protective enclosure (see figure). When arranged with three or more like assemblies, this bumper assembly is designed to secure the interior structure within a payload’s protective enclosure during the stresses endured in flight and, if required, recovery of the payload. Furthermore, proper use of this innovation facilitates the ability of designers and engineers to maximize the total placement area for components, thus increasing utilization of very valuable and limited space.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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On Release of Microbe-Laden Particles From Mars Landers

A paper presents a study in which rates of release of small particles from Mars lander spacecraft into the Martian atmosphere were estimated from first principles. Because such particles can consist of, or be laden with, terrestrial microbes, the study was undertaken to understand their potential for biological contamination of Mars. The study included taking account of forces and energies involved in adhesion of particles and of three mechanisms of dislodgement of particles from the surface of a Mars lander: wind shear, wind-driven impingement of suspended dust, and impingement of winddriven local saltating sand particles. Wind shear was determined to be effective in dislodging only particles larger than about 10 microns and would probably be of limited interest because such large particles could be removed by pre-flight cleaning of the spacecraft, and their number on the launched spacecraft would thus be relatively small. Dislodgement by wind-driven dust was found to be characterized by an adhesion half-life of the order of 10,000 years — judged to be too long to be of concern. Dislodgement by saltating sand particles, including skirts of dust devils, was found to be of potential importance, depending on the sizes of the spacecraft-attached particlesand characteristics of both Mars sand-particle and spacecraft surfaces.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics

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Phase Sensor for Aligning a Segmented Telescope Mirror

Alignment can be maintained even in the presence of atmospheric turbulence. A phase sensor has been developed for use in aligning a segmented telescope mirror to within a fraction of a wavelength in piston. (As used here, “piston” signifies displacement of a mirror segment along the optical axis of the telescope.) Such precise alignment is necessary in order to realize the full benefit of the large aperture achievable through segmentation.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences

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Boundary Condition for Modeling Semiconductor Nanostructures

Simulation domains are truncated without introducing spurious surface quantum states. A recently proposed boundary condition for atomistic computational modeling of semiconductor nanostructures (particularly, quantum dots) is an improved alternative to two prior such boundary conditions. As explained below, this boundary condition helps to reduce the amount of computation while maintaining accuracy.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences

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Protein Sensors Based on Optical Ring Resonators

Progress has been achieved in the continuing development of optical chemical sensors.Prototype transducers based on integrated optical ring resonators have been demonstrated to be useful for detecting the protein avidin in extremely dilute solutions. In an experiment, one of the transducers proved to be capable of indicating the presence of avidin at a concentration of as little as 300 pM in a buffer solution — a detection sensitivity comparable to that achievable by previously reported protein-detection techniques. These transducers are serving as models for the further development of integrated-optics sensors for detecting small quantities of other proteins and protein like substances.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences

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Semiconductor Bolometers Give Background-Limited Performance

These devices can be fabricated inexpensively by use of established silicon-processing techniques. Semiconductor bolometers that are capable of detecting electromagnetic radiation over most or all of the infrared spectrum and that give background-limited performance at operating temperatures from 20 to 300 K have been invented. The term “background-limited performance” as applied to a bolometer, thermopile, or other infrared detector signifies that the ability to detect infrared signals that originate outside the detector is limited primarily by thermal noise attributable to the background radiation generated external to the bolometer. The signal- to-noise ratios and detectivities of the bolometers and thermopiles available prior to this invention have been lower than those needed for background-limited performance by factors of about 100 and 10, respectively.

Posted in: Briefs, Semiconductors & ICs

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