Tech Briefs

Oxide Protective Coats for Ir/Re Rocket Combustion Chambers

An improved material system has been developed for rocket engine combustion chambers for burning oxygen/hydrogen mixtures or novel monopropellants, which are highly oxidizing at operating temperatures. The baseline for developing the improved material system is a prior iridium/rhenium system for chambers burning nitrogen tetroxide/monomethyl hydrazine mixtures, which are less oxidizing. The baseline combustion chamber comprises an outer layer of rhenium that provides structural support, plus an inner layer of iridium that acts as a barrier to oxidation of the rhenium. In the improved material system, the layer of iridium is thin and is coated with a thermal fatigue-resistant refractory oxide (specifically, hafnium oxide) that serves partly as a thermal barrier to decrease the temperature and thus the rate of oxidation of the rhenium. The oxide layer also acts as a barrier against the transport of oxidizing species to the surface of the iridium. Tests in which various oxygen/hydrogen mixtures were burned in iridium/rhenium combustion chambers lined with hafnium oxide showed that the operational lifetimes of combustion chambers of the improved material system are an order of magnitude greater than those of the baseline combustion chambers.

Posted in: Materials, Briefs, TSP

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Neutral-Axis Springs for Thin-Wall Integral Boom Hinges

A document proposes the use of neutral-axis springs to augment the unfolding torques of hinges that are integral parts of thin-wall composite-material booms used to deploy scientific instruments from spacecraft. A spring according to the proposal would most likely be made of metal and could be either flat or curved in the manner of a measuring tape. Under the unfolded, straight-boom condition, each spring would lie along the neutral axis of a boom. The spring would be connected to the boom by two supports at fixed locations on the boom. The spring would be fixed to one of the supports and would be free to slide through the other support. The width, thickness, and material of the spring would be chosen to tailor the spring stiffness to provide the desired torque margin to assist in deployment of the boom. The spring would also contribute to the stiffness of the boom against bending and torsion, and could contribute some damping that would help suppress unwanted vibrations caused by the deployment process or by external disturbances.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Shields for Enhanced Protection Against High-Speed Debris

A report describes improvements over the conventional Whipple shield (two thin, spaced aluminum walls) for protecting spacecraft against high-speed impacts of orbiting debris. The debris in question arise mainly from breakup of older spacecraft. The improved shields include exterior "bumper" layers composed of hybrid fabrics woven from combinations of ceramic fibers and high-density metallic wires or, alternatively, completely metallic outer layers composed of high-strength steel or copper wires. These shields are designed to be light in weight, yet capable of protecting against orbital debris with mass densities up to about 9 g/cm3, without generating damaging secondary debris particles. As yet another design option, improved shields can include sparsely distributed wires made of shape-memory metals that can be thermally activated from compact storage containers to form shields of predetermined shape upon arrival in orbit. The improved shields could also be used to augment shields installed previously.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Device for Automated Cutting and Transfer of Plant Shoots

This device is simple yet effective. A device that enables the automated cutting and transfer of plant shoots is undergoing development for use in the propagation of plants in a nursery or laboratory. At present, it is standard practice for a human technician to use a knife and forceps to cut, separate, and grasp a plant shoot. The great advantage offered by the present device is that its design and operation are simpler than would be those of a device based on the manual cutting/separation/grasping procedure. [The present device should not be confused with a prior device developed for partly the same purpose and described in "Compliant Gripper for a Robotic Manipulator" (NPO-21104), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 27, No. 3 (March 2003), page 59.]

Posted in: Briefs, TSP

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Extension of Liouville Formalism to Postinstability Dynamics

A fictitious stabilizing force is introduced. A mathematical formalism has been developed for predicting the postinstability motions of a dynamic system governed by a system of nonlinear equations and subject to initial conditions. Previously, there was no general method for prediction and mathematical modeling of postinstability behaviors (e.g., chaos and turbulence) in such a system.

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Scaling of Two-Phase Flows to Partial-Earth Gravity

A report presents a method of scaling, to partial-Earth gravity, of parameters that describe pressure drops and other characteristics of two-phase (liquid/ vapor) flows. The development of the method was prompted by the need for a means of designing two-phase flow systems to operate on the Moon and on Mars, using fluid- properties and flow data from terrestrial two-phase-flow experiments, thus eliminating the need for partial-gravity testing. The report presents an explicit procedure for designing an Earth-based test bed that can provide hydrodynamic similarity with two-phase fluids flowing in partial-gravity systems. The procedure does not require prior knowledge of the flow regime (i.e., the spatial orientation of the phases). The method also provides for determination of pressure drops in two-phase partial-gravity flows by use of a generalization of the classical Moody chart (previously applicable to single-phase flow only). The report presents experimental data from Mars- and Moon-activity experiments that appear to demonstrate the validity of this method.

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Swarms of Micron-Sized Sensors

A paper presents the concept of swarms of micron-sized and smaller carriers of sensing equipment, denoted generally as controllable granular matter, to be used in exploring remote planets and interplanetary space. The design and manufacture of controllable granular matter would exploit advances in microelectromechanical systems and nanotechnology. Depending on specific designs and applications, controllable granular matter could have characteristics like those of powders, sands, or aerosols, which would be dispersed into the environments to be explored: For example, sensory grains could be released into orbit around a planet, spread out over ground, or dispersed into wind or into a body of liquid. The grains would thus become integral parts of multiphase environments, where they would function individually and/or collectively to gather information about the environments. In cases of clouds of grains dispersed in outer space, it may be feasible to use laser beams to shape the clouds to perform specific functions. To enable the full utilization of controllable granular matter, it is necessary to advance the knowledge of the dynamics and controllable characteristics of both individual grains and the powders, sands, or aerosols of which they are parts.

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