Special Coverage

NASA Supercomputer Simulations Reveal 'Noisy' Aerodynamics
Robotic Gripper Cleans Up Space Debris
Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Using Microwaves to Produce High-Quality Graphene
Transducer-Actuator Systems for On-Machine Measurements and Automatic Part Alignment
Wide-Area Surveillance Using HD LWIR Uncooled Sensors
Heavy Lift Wing in Ground (WIG) Cargo Flying Boat
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space

Ultrasonic/Sonic Rotary-Hammer Drills

Ultrasonic/sonic rotary-hammer drill (USRoHD) is a recent addition to the collection of apparatuses based on ultrasonic/sonic drill corer (USDC). As described below, the USRoHD has several features, not present in a basic USDC, that increase efficiency and provide some redundancy against partial failure.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Performance upgrades, Tools and equipment, Product development, Drilling, Acoustics, Acoustics
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Lunar Soil Particle Separator

The Lunar Soil Particle Separator (LSPS) beneficiates soil prior to in situ resource utilization (ISRU). It can improve ISRU oxygen yield by boosting the concentration of ilmenite, or other iron-oxide-bearing materials found in lunar soils, which can substantially reduce hydrogen reduction reactor size, as well as drastically decreasing the power input required for soil heating. LSPS particle size separations can be performed to “de-dust” regolith, and to improve ISRU reactor flow dynamics. LSPS mineral separations can be used to alter the sintering characteristics of lunar soil, and can also be used to separate and concentrate lunar materials useful for manufacture of structural materials, glass, and chemicals.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Soils, Life support systems, Test equipment and instrumentation, Mining vehicles and equipment, Spacecraft
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Miniature Piezoelectric Shaker for Distribution of Unconsolidated Samples to Instrument Cells

The planned Mars Science Laboratory mission requires inlet funnels for channeling unconsolidated powdered samples from the sampling and sieving mechanisms into instrument test cells, which are required to reduce cross-contamination of the samples and to minimize residue left in the funnels after each sample transport. To these ends, a solid-state shaking mechanism has been created that requires low power and is lightweight, but is sturdy enough to survive launch vibration.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Soils, Spacecraft fuel, Vibration, Vibration, Test equipment and instrumentation, Spacecraft
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Advanced Aerobots for Scientific Exploration

The Picosat and Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Systems Engineering (PAUSE) project is developing balloon-borne instrumentation systems as aerobots for scientific exploration of remote planets and for diverse terrestrial purposes that can include scientific exploration, mapping, and military surveillance. The underlying concept of balloon-borne gondolas housing outer-space-qualified scientific instruments and associated data-processing and radio-communication equipment is not new. Instead, the novelty lies in numerous design details that, taken together, make a PAUSE aerobot smaller, less expensive, and less massive, relative to prior aerobots developed for similar purposes: Whereas the gondola (including the instrumentation system housed in it) of a typical prior aerobot has a mass of hundreds of kilograms, the mass of the gondola (with instrumentation system) of a PAUSE aerobot is a few kilograms.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Performance upgrades, Robotics, Test equipment and instrumentation, Spacecraft, Unmanned aerial vehicles
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Exfoliated Graphite Nano-Reinforcements With Surface Modifications to Improve Dispersability

Exfoliated graphite nanoflakes are a potential low-cost source of nano-reinforcement for making polymer composites with unique properties. The chemical nature of the graphitic surface leads to a low-surface energy as produced. This makes the nanoflakes difficult to disperse in polymer resins and makes it difficult to make high-quality composites. To improve nanoflake dispersability in various polymers, two surface treatments were selected to modify the chemical structure of the graphite nanoflakes.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Fabrication, Composite materials, Graphite, Nanomaterials, Resins
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MicroGel® for Passivation of Pigment Degradation

MicroGel® is a unique, highly porous xero-gel silica formed using sol-gel techniques. The starting materials used are designed per guidance from molecular dynamic calculations, and are made up of mixed alkali silicates rather than normally used single alkali silicates that are gelled with appropriate mineral acid at controlled temperature and time.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Materials, Fabrication, Composite materials, Materials properties, Silicon alloys
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Producing Synthetic Agglutinates in Simulated Lunar Regolith

A method was developed of synthesizing agglutinates as components of simulated Lunar regolith. The method is needed for further development of Lunar-exploration capabilities because natural Lunar regolith contains agglutinates that contribute significantly to its mechanical and thermophysical properties. Agglutinates are particles that, in the Lunar case, are aggregates of smaller regolith particles (mineral grains, glasses, and even older agglutinates) bonded together by vesicular, flow-banded glass.

Posted in: Briefs, Materials, Soils, Glass, Materials identification, Test procedures
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Fuel-Cell Power Source Based on Onboard Rocket Propellants

The use of onboard rocket propellants (dense liquids at room temperature) in place of conventional cryogenic fuel-cell reactants (hydrogen and oxygen) eliminates the mass penalties associated with cryocooling and boil-off. The high energy content and density of the rocket propellants will also require no additional chemical processing.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Fuel cells, Liquid propellants, On-board energy sources, Spacecraft fuel
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Polar Lunar Regions: Exploiting Natural and Augmented Thermal Environments

In the polar regions of the Moon, some areas within craters are permanently shadowed from solar illumination and can drop to temperatures of 100 K or lower. These sites may serve as cold traps, capturing ice and other volatile compounds, possibly for eons. Interestingly, ice stored in these locations could potentially alter how lunar exploration is conducted. Within craters inside craters (double-shaded craters) that are shaded from thermal re-radiation and from solar illuminated regions, even colder regions should exist and, in many cases, temperatures in these regions never exceed 50 K. Working in these harsh environments with existing conventional systems, exploration or mining activities could be quite daunting and challenging. However, if the unique characteristics of these environments were exploited, the power, weight, and total mass that is required to be carried from the Earth to the Moon for lunar exploration and research would be substantially reduced.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Cold weather, Spacecraft
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Improved Speed and Functionality of a 580-GHz Imaging Radar

With this high-resolution imaging radar system, coherent illumination in the 576-to-589-GHz range and phase-sensitive detection are implemented in an all-solid-state design based on Schottky diode sensors and sources. By employing the frequency-modulated, continuous-wave (FMCW) radar technique, centimeter-scale range resolution has been achieved while using fractional bandwidths of less than 3 percent. The high operating frequencies also permit centimeter-scale cross-range resolution at several-meter standoff distances without large apertures. Scanning of a single-pixel transceiver enables targets to be rapidly mapped in three dimensions, so that the technology can be applied to the detection of concealed objects on persons.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Architecture, Radar, Sensors and actuators, Architecture, Radar, Sensors and actuators
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