Tech Briefs

Efficient Processing of Data for Locating Lightning Strikes

Time differences can be computed efficiently to subnanosecond resolution. Two algorithms have been devised to increase the efficiency of processing of data in lightning detection and ranging (LDAR) systems so as to enable the accurate location of lightning strikes in real time. In LDAR, the location of a lightning strike is calculated by solving equations for the differences among the times of arrival (DTOAs) of the lightning signals at multiple antennas as functions of the locations of the antennas and the speed of light. The most difficult part of the problem is computing the DTOAs from digitized versions of the signals received by the various antennas. One way (a time-domain approach) to determine the DTOAs is to compute cross-correlations among variously differentially delayed replicas of the digitized signals and to select, as the DTOAs, those differential delays that yield the maximum correlations. Another way (a frequency-domain approach) to determine the DTOAs involves the computation of cross-correlations among Fourier transforms of variously differentially phased replicas of the digitized signals, along with utilization of the relationship among phase difference, time delay, and frequency.

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Annealing Would Improve β" — Alumina Solid Electrolyte

The objective is to prevent a sudden reduction of ionic conductivity. A pre-operational annealing process is under investigation as a potential means of preventing a sudden reduction of ionic conductivity in a β"—alumina solid electrolyte (BASE) during use. On the basis of tests described below, the sudden reduction of ionic conductivity, followed by a slow recovery, has been found to occur during testing of the solid electrolyte and electrode components of an alkali metal thermal-to-electric converter (AMTEC) cell. This conductivity reduction may be observed quite infrequently; at lower operating temperatures, T<1,073 K, it is not usually observed at all, while at T=1,123–1,173 K, hundreds of hours may pass before conductivity reduction occurs. Only on tests running at higher operating temperatures for thousands of hours is this phenomenon regularly exhibited. The reduction of ionic conductivity would degrade the performance of an AMTEC cell. A pre-operational annealing process would help to sustain performance.

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Low-Power RIE of SiO2 in CHF3 To Obtain Steep Sidewalls

Process parameters are chosen carefully to minimize deleterious effects. A reactive-ion etching (RIE) process has been developed to enable the formation of holes with steep sidewalls in a layer of silicon dioxide that covers a silicon substrate. The holes in question are through the thickness of the SiO2 and are used to define silicon substrate areas to be etched or to be built upon through epitaxial deposition of silicon. The sidewalls of these holes are required to be vertical in order to ensure that the sidewalls of the holes to be etched in the substrate or the sidewalls of the epitaxial deposits, respectively, also turn out to be vertical.

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Docking Fixture and Mechanism for a Protective Suit

One can transfer safely and quickly between the suit and a sealed vehicle. A suitlock assembly that comprises a docking fixture and mechanism has been invented to facilitate and accelerate donning and doffing of a sealed protective suit and/or to enable ingress and egress between the protective suit and a sealed vessel. The sealed protective suit could be a space suit, in which case the sealed vessel could be a spacecraft. Alternatively, the sealed suit could be an environmental protective suit of a type worn on Earth during cleanup of a hazardous-material site, in which case the sealed vessel could be a vehicle equipped to maintain a safe interior environment for workers in transit to and from the site. Figure 1 depicts a typical situation in which several crewmembers are working inside such a vehicle, one is working outside in a protective suit, and one is donning or doffing a protective suit while holding onto an overhead bar for support.

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Solution-Adaptive Program for Computing 2D/Axi Viscous Flow

A computer program solves the Navier- Stokes equations governing the flow of a viscous, compressible fluid in an axisymmetric or two-dimensional (2D) setting. To obtain solutions more accurate than those generated by prior such programs that utilize regular and/or fixed computational meshes, this program utilizes unstructured (that is, irregular triangular) computational meshes that are automatically adapted to solutions. The adaptation can refine to regions of high change in gradient or can be driven by a novel residual minimization technique. Starting from an initial mesh and a corresponding data structure, the adaptation of the mesh is controlled by use of minimization functional. Other improvements over prior such programs include the following: (1) Boundary conditions are imposed weakly; that is, following initial specification of solution values at boundary nodes, these values are relaxed in time by means of the same formulations as those used for interior nodes. (2) Eigenvalues are limited in order to suppress expansion shocks. (3) An upwind fluctuation-splitting distribution scheme applied to inviscid flux requires fewer operations and produces less artificial dissipation than does a finite-volume scheme, leading to greater accuracy of solutions.

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Thermo-Electron Ballistic Coolers or Heaters

These devices may surpass currently available thermoelectric devices. Electronic heat-transfer devices of a proposed type would exploit some of the quantum-wire-like, pseudo-superconducting properties of single-wall carbon nanotubes or, optionally, room- temperature- superconducting polymers (RTSPs). The devices are denoted thermo-electron ballistic (TEB) coolers or heaters because one of the properties that they exploit is the totally or nearly ballistic (dissipation or scattering free) transport of electrons. This property is observed in RTSPs and carbon nanotubes that are free of material and geometric defects, except under conditions in which oscillatory electron motions become coupled with vibrations of the nanotubes. Another relevant property is the high number density of electrons passing through carbon nanotubes — sufficient to sustain electron current densities as large as 100 MA/cm2. The combination of ballistic motion and large current density should make it possible for TEB devices to operate at low applied potentials while pumping heat at rates several orders of magnitude greater than those of thermoelectric devices. It may also enable them to operate with efficiency close to the Carnot limit. In addition, the proposed TEB devices are expected to operate over a wider temperature range.

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Proton Collimators for Fusion Reactors

High-energy protons would be channeled into useful beams. Proton collimators have been proposed for incorporation into inertial- electrostatic- confinement (IEC) fusion reactors. Such reactors have been envisioned as thrusters and sources of electric power for spacecraft and as sources of energetic protons in commercial ion-beam applications. An artist's concept for an IEC powered spaceship designed for round trip missions to Mars and Jupiter is shown in the figure.

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