Tech Briefs

Logistics for Building Radiation Storm Shelters and their Operational Evaluation

Various habitat structures were tested for use in exploration activities.

Over the past three years, NASA has been studying the operational effectiveness and astronaut protection efficacy of numerous radiation protection shelters for use in space exploration activities outside of Earth's magnetosphere. The work was part of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) RadWorks Storm Shelter project. Fabricated items were integrated into mockup deep space habitat vehicle sections for operational evaluations. Two full-scale human-in-loop simulations were designed, fabricated, and implemented. The goal was to provide design and performance assessment information for consideration by mission designers who must quantify the radiation protection characteristics of their exploration trade space.

Posted in: Briefs, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Protective structures, Radiation protection, Spacecraft
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Vulnerability Assessment Tool

Malawi has not been spared from the severe impacts of climate change. In the past two decades, Malawi has experienced a number of adverse climatic hazards, the most serious being dry spells, seasonal droughts, intense and unpredictable rainfall, riverine floods, and flash floods. Some of these, especially droughts and floods, have since increased in frequency, intensity, and magnitude over the past decades, and have adversely impacted food and water security, water quality, energy, and sustainable livelihoods of most rural communities. With its narrow economic base, limited agroprocessing industries, over-dependency on rain-fed agriculture, and biomass for household energy, Malawi is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. This situation is exacerbated by increasing poverty among rural communities, increasing population pressure on a limited land resource base, land degradation arising from agricultural expansion and the cultivation of marginal lands, and increasing deforestation to meet the increasing demands for energy, food, and construction purposes.

Posted in: Briefs, Green Design & Manufacturing, Statistical analysis, Weather and climate, Developing countries, Risk assessments
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MRAM Alternative Uses Less Energy than Conventional Chip

Purely electrical memory chips commonly used today are volatile and their state must be continuously refreshed, which requires a lot of energy. An alternative to these electrical memory chips is magnetic random access memory (MRAM), which saves data magnetically and does not require constant refreshing. They do, however, require relatively large electrical currents to write the data to memory, which reduces reliability.

Posted in: Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Computer software and hardware, Integrated circuits, Energy consumption
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Nodal Averaging Program for CFD Planes

Aerodynamic heating of aerospace vehicles such as aircraft and spacecraft occurs when air passes over a vehicle during transit, ascent, descent, and re-entry, and is a function of re-entry angle, speed, air density, thermal protection system material, and vehicle configuration. The degree of aerodynamic heating experienced by an aerospace vehicle may affect various characteristics of the vehicle. It is advantageous to have a method and apparatus that takes these issues into account.

Posted in: Briefs, Aeronautics, Aerospace, Computational fluid dynamics, Mathematical models, Heat transfer, Aerodynamics, Entry, descent, and landing
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Vapor-Barrier Vacuum Isolation System

Applications include metal fabrication in the automotive, aerospace, sporting goods, and medical industries.

Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3, is a process that uses an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed, and computer controls to manufacture metallic structures for building parts or tools in hours, rather than days or weeks. EBF3 can manufacture complex geometries in a single operation, and provides efficient use of power and feedstock. The technology has a wide range of applications, including automotive, aerospace, and rapid prototyping. It can build large metallic parts measuring feet in length, and has been reduced in size and power to enable zero-gravity experiments conducted on NASA's Reduced Gravity aircraft.

Posted in: Briefs, Manufacturing & Prototyping, CAD, CAM, and CAE, Rapid prototyping, Fabrication, Metallurgy
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Algae Bioreactor Using Submerged Enclosures with Semi-Permeable Membranes

Applications include diesel fuel production, lipid-based chemical production, advanced sewage treatment, and renewable energy.

NASA has invented an innovative method to grow algae, clean wastewater, and capture carbon dioxide to ultimately produce biofuel. The invention consists of floating flexible-plastic enclosures and photo-bioreactors with semi-permeable membranes. This new cultivation system is made of lightweight material and is deployed offshore, avoiding the problems of land costs and competition with other land uses. The surrounding waters provide infrastructure, cooling, and some mixing from wave action. Ideally, this cultivation system is filled with nutrient-rich domestic wastewater and a source of CO2 to promote the growth of algae and to remediate pollution.

Posted in: Briefs, Green Design & Manufacturing, Water reclamation, Biofuels, Biological sciences, Performance upgrades, Product development
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High-Voltage Supercapacitors for Improved Energy Density Hybrid Power Sources

Both the aerospace and automotive industries depend increasingly on electrochemical energy storage. Reduction in mass, increase in energy, and increase in power can benefit both of these areas dramatically. Supercapacitors are currently under consideration for use in both hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and electric vehicles (EV) to improve delivery of power (due to their high rate capability), improve the life of the lithium-ion batteries (due to their ability to buffer the detrimental effects of high current pulses or alternating currents on the battery), and implement more efficient capture of regenerative breaking energy (due to their excellent charge acceptance at high rates).

Posted in: Briefs, Energy, Energy storage systems, Lithium-ion batteries, Ultracapacitors and supercapacitors, Electric vehicles, Hybrid electric vehicles
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A Systems Engineering Approach to Architecture Development

Architecture development often is conducted prior to system concept design when there is a need to determine the best-value mix of systems that works collectively in specific scenarios and time frames to accomplish a set of mission area objectives. Conducted prior to Pre-Phase A of the project lifecycle, the scope of architecture studies is broader and shallower than that of concept design studies conducted in Pre-Phase A. Results are used to advise senior planners on recommended capabilities and investment profiles for mission areas 15-25 years in the future.

Posted in: Briefs, Software, Architecture, Life cycle analysis, Systems engineering
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Reconfigurable Chaos-Based Microchips

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed nonlinear chaos-based integrated circuits that enable computer chips to perform multiple functions with fewer transistors. These integrated circuits can be manufactured with off-the-shelf fabrication processes, and could lead to novel computer architectures that do more with less circuitry and fewer transistors.

Posted in: Briefs, Electronics & Computers, Architecture, Integrated circuits, Transistors, Fabrication
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Fuel Cell Power Management

This technique produces multiple voltages simultaneously from a single fuel cell stack, without the need for converters.

An innovation from NASA Glenn Research Center increases the efficiency and versatility of fuel cell stacks for power generation. To meet the requirements of a fuel cell system, engineers have typically added direct-current-to-direct-current (DC-to-DC) converters that reduce the voltage produced at the ends of the fuel cell stack. This smaller voltage is then used to operate the valves, pumps, heaters, and electronics that make up the fuel cell system. However, adding DC-to-DC converters increases cost, reduces efficiency, adds to the system part count (which reduces reliability), and increases both the mass and volume of the fuel cell system. NASA's innovative technique features multiple power points that connect different numbers of cells in an electrical series, allowing the fuel cell stack to produce electrical power at multiple DC voltages simultaneously. This capability eliminates DC-to-DC converter electronics, thereby reducing cost and simplifying the system.

Posted in: Briefs, Energy, Voltage regulators, Electric power, Fuel cells
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