Tech Briefs

Simulation Testing of Embedded Flight Software

Virtual Real Time (VRT) is a computer program for testing embedded flight software by computational simulation in a workstation, in contradistinction to testing it in its target central processing unit (CPU). The disadvantages of testing in the target CPU include the need for an expensive test bed, the necessity for testers and programmers to take turns using the test bed, and the lack of software tools for debugging in a real-time environment. By virtue of its architecture, most of the flight software of the type in question is amenable to development and testing on workstations, for which there is an abundance of commercially available debugging and analysis software tools. Unfortunately, the timing of a workstation differs from that of a target CPU in a test bed. VRT, in conjunction with closed-loop simulation software, provides a capability for executing embedded flight software on a workstation in a close-to-real-time environment. A scale factor is used to convert between execution time in VRT on a workstation and execution on a target CPU. VRT includes high-resolution operating-system timers that enable the synchronization of flight software with simulation software and ground software, all running on different workstations.

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Updated System-Availibility and Resource-Allocation Program

A second version of the Availability, Cost and Resource Allocation (ACARA) computer program has become available. The first version was reported in "System-Availability and Resource- Allocation Program" (LEW-15713), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 19, No. 8 (August 1995), page 54. To recapitulate: ACARA analyzes the availability, mean-time-between- failures of components, life-cycle costs, and scheduling of resources of a complex system of equipment. ACARA uses a statistical Monte Carlo method to simulate the failure and repair of components while complying with user-specified constraints on spare parts and resources. ACARA evaluates the performance of the system on the basis of a mathematical model developed from a block-diagram representation. The previous version utilized the MS-DOS operating system and could not be run by use of the most recent versions of the Windows operating system. The current version incorporates the algorithms of the previous version but is compatible with Windows and utilizes menus and a file-management approach typical of Windows-based software.

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Software for Fault-Tolerant Matrix Multiplication

Formal Linear Algebra Recovery Environment is a computer program for high-performance, fault-tolerant matrix multiplication. The program is based on an extension of the prior theory and practice of fault-tolerant matrix·matrix multiplication of the form C = AB. This extension provides low-overhead methods for detecting errors, not only in C, but also in A and/or B. These methods enable the detection of all errors as long as, in a given case, only one entry in A, B, or C is corrupted. The program also provides for following a low-overhead roll-back approach to correct errors once detected. Results of computational experiments have demonstrated that the methods implemented in this program work well in practice while imposing an acceptably low level of overhead, relative to high-performance matrix-multiplication methods that do not afford fault tolerance.

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Routines for Computing Pressure Drops in Venturis

A set of computer- program routines has been developed for calculating pressure drops and recoveries of flows through standard venturis, nozzle venturis, and orifices. Relative to prior methods used for such calculations, the method implemented by these routines offers greater accuracy because it involves fewer simplifying assumptions and is more generally applicable to wide ranges of flow conditions. These routines are based on conservation of momentum and energy equations for real nonideal fluids, the properties of which are calculated by curve-fitting subroutines based on empirical properties data. These routines are capable of representing cavitating, choked, non-cavitating, and unchoked flow conditions for liquids, gases, and supercritical fluids. For a computation of flow through a given venturi, nozzle venturi, or orifice, the routines determine which flow condition occurs: First, they calculate a throat pressure under the assumption that the flow is unchoked or non-cavitating, then they calculate the throat pressure under the assumption that the flow is choked or cavitating. The assumption that yields the higher throat pressure is selected as the correct one.

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Multisensor Instrument for Real-Time Biological Monitoring

Multiple parameters can be measured simultaneously by use of a single compact sensor head. The figure schematically depicts an instrumentation system, called a "fiber optic-based integration system" (FOBIS), that is undergoing development to enable real-time monitoring of fluid cell cultures, bioprocess flows, and the like. The FOBIS design combines a micro flow cytometer (MFC), a microphotometer (MP), and a fluorescence-spectrum- or binding-force-measuring micro-sensor (MS) in a single instrument that is capable of measuring multiple biological parameters simultaneously or sequentially. The fiber-optic-based integration system is so named because the MFC, the MP, and the MS are integrated into a single optical system that is coupled to light sources and photometric equipment via optical fibers. The optical coupling components also include a wavelength-division multiplexer and diffractive optical elements. The FOBIS includes a laser-diode- and fiber-optic-based optical trapping subsystem ("optical tweezers") with microphotometric and micro-sensing capabilities for noninvasive confinement and optical measurement of relevant parameters of a single cell or other particle.

Posted in: Bio-Medical, Briefs, TSP

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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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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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