Tech Briefs

Flexible Shields for Protecting Spacecraft Against Debris

A report presents the concept of Flexshield —a class of versatile, light-weight, flexible shields for protecting spacecraft against impacts by small meteors and orbiting debris. The Flexshield concept incorporates elements of, but goes beyond, prior space-craft-shielding concepts, including those of Whipple shields and, more recently, multi-shock shields and multi-shock blankets. A shield of the Flexshield type includes multiple outer layers (called “bumpers” in the art) made, variously, of advanced ceramic and/or polymeric fibers spaced apart from each other by a lightweight foam.As in prior such shields, the bumpers serve to shock an impinging hypervelocity particle, causing it to disintegrate, vaporize, and spread out over a larger area so that it can be stopped by an innermost layer (back sheet). The flexibility of the fabric layers and compressibility of the foam make it possible to compress and fold the shield for transport,then deploy the shield for use. The shield can be attached to a spacecraft by use of snaps, hook-and-pile patches,or other devices. The shield can also contain multilayer insulation material, so that it provides some thermal protection in addition to mechanical protection.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components


Controllable Curved Mirrors Made From Single-Layer EAP Films

A document proposes that light-weight, deployable, large- aperture, controllable curved mirrors made of reflectively coated thin electroactive-polymer (EAP) films be developed for use in spaceborne microwave and optical systems. In these mirrors, the EAP films would serve as both structures and actuators. EAPs that are potentially suit- able for such use include piezoelectric, electrostrictive, ferroelectric, and di-electric polymers. These materials exhibit strains proportional to the squares of applied electric fields. Utilizing this phenomenon,a curved mirror according to the proposal could be made from a flat film, upon which a nonuniform electrostatic potential (decreasing from the center toward the edge) would be imposed to obtain a required curvature. The effect would be analogous to that of an old-fashioned metalworking practice in which a flat metal sheet is made into a bowl by hammering it repeatedly, the frequency of hammer blows decreasing with distance from the center. In operation, the nonuniform electrostatic potential could be imposed by use of an electron gun. Calculations have shown that by use of a single-layer film made of a currently available EAP, it would be possible to control the focal length of a 2m-diameter mirror from infinity to 1.25 m.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components


Thermally Conductive Metal-Tube/Carbon-Composite Joints

Modified solder joints accommodate differential thermal expansion. An improved method of fabricating joints between metal and carbon-fiber-based composite materials in lightweight radiators and heat sinks has been devised. Carbon-fiber-based composite materials have been used in such heat-transfer devices because they offer a combination of high thermal conductivity and low mass density. Metal tubes are typically used to carry heat-transfer fluids to and from such heat-transfer devices. The present fabrication method helps to ensure that the joints between the metal tubes and the composite-material parts in such heat-transfer devices have both (1) the relatively high thermal conductances needed for efficient transfer of heat and (2) the flexibility needed to accommodate differences among thermal expansions of dissimilar materials in operation over wide temperature ranges.

Posted in: Briefs, Manufacturing & Prototyping


Using an Ultrasonic Instrument to Size Extravascular Bubbles

Measurements could be used to guide prebreathing of oxygen to reduce the risk of decompression sickness. In an ongoing development project, microscopic bubbles in extravascular tissue in a human body will be detected by use of an enhanced version of the apparatus described in "Ultrasonic Bubble- Sizing Instrument" (MSC-22980), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol.24, No.10 (October 2000), page 62. To recapitulate: The physical basis of the instrument is the use of ultrasound to excite and measure the resonant behavior (oscillatory ex- pansion and contraction) of bubbles. The resonant behavior is a function of the bubble diameter; the instrument exploits the diameter dependence of the resonance frequency and the general nonlinearity of the ultrasonic response of bubbles to detect bubbles and potentially measure their diameters.

Posted in: Briefs, Medical


Transplanting Retinal Cells Using Bucky Paper for Support

Bucky paper supports the cells before, during,and after surgery. A novel treatment for retinal degenerative disorders involving transplantation of cells into the eye is currently under development at NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University School of Medicine. The technique uses bucky paper as a support material for retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, iris pigment epithelial (IPE) cells, and/or stem cells. This technology is envisioned as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in persons over age 65 in Western nations. Additionally, patients with other retinal degenerative disorders, such as retinitis pigmentosa, may be treated by this strategy. Bucky paper is a mesh of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), as shown in Figure 1, that can be made from any of the commercial sources of CNTs. Bucky paper is biocompatible and capable of supporting the growth of biological cells. Because bucky paper is highly porous, nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and waste can readily diffuse through it. The thickness, density, and porosity of bucky paper can be tailored in manufacturing. For transplantation of cells into the retina, bucky paper serves simultaneously as a substrate for cell growth and as a barrier for new blood vessel formation, which can be a problem in the exudative type of macular degeneration. Bucky paper is easily handled during surgical implantation into the eye. Through appropriate choice of manufacturing processes,bucky paper can be made relatively rigid yet able to conform to the retina when the bucky paper is implanted. Bucky paper offers a distinct a vantage over other materials that have been investigated for retinal cell transplantation — lens capsule and Descemet's membrane — which are difficult to handle during surgery because they are flimsy and do not stay flat. In preparation for implantation, the selected cells are first cultured onto a piece of bucky paper.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Medical


Working Fluids for Increasing Capacities of Heat Pipes

Fluids are formulated to make surface tensions increase with temperature. A theoretical and experimental investigation has shown that the capacities of heat pipes can be increased through suitable reformulation of their working fluids. The surface tensions of all of the working fluids heretofore used in heat pipes decrease with temperature. As explained in more detail below, the limits on the performance of a heat pipe are associated with the decrease in the surface tension of the working fluid with temperature, and so one can enhance performance by reformulating the working fluid so that its surface tension increases with temperature.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences


On-the-Fly Mapping for Calibrating Directional Antennas

Source-size corrections are not necessary in this method.  An improved method of calibrating a large directional radio antenna of the type used in deep-space communication and radio astronomy has been developed. This method involves a raster-scanning-and-measurement technique denoted on-the-fly (OTF) mapping, applied in consideration of the results of a systematic analysis of the entire measurement procedure. Phenomena to which particular attention was paid in the analysis include (1) the noise characteristics of a total-power radiometer (TPR) that is used in the measurements and (2) tropospherically induced radiometer fluctuations. The method also involves the use of recently developed techniques for acquisition and reduction of data. In comparison with prior methods used to calibrate such antennas, this method yields an order-of-magnitude improvement in the precision of determinations of antenna aperture efficiency, and improvement by a factor of five or more in the precision of determination of pointing error and beam width. Prerequisite to a meaningful description of the present method is some background information concerning three aspects of the problem of calibrating an antenna of the type in question:

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences


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