NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center
Edwards, CA
United Launch Alliance
Centennial, CO

What began as a research tool to collect aerodynamic data from research aircraft is now solving technical challenges within the agency and beyond. NASA’s Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) technology combines advanced strain sensors and innovative algorithms into a robust package that accurately and cost-effectively monitors a host of critical parameters in real time. It is being widely used throughout NASA to support research projects as varied as investigating next-generation flexible wings and measuring liquid fuel levels, as well as monitoring strain on spacecraft.

FOSS uses up to a 40-foot, hair-like optical fiber that provides up to 2,000 data points each. The state-of-the-art system processes information every quarter inch along the fiber at rates up to 100 times per second to measure strain, shape deformation, temperature, liquid level, and operational loads.

Through the years, the FOSS team has optimized the technology to refine the infrastructure and speed with which the system collects and transmits data, and the technology’s easy-to-integrate elements now complement and add color to existing instrumentation.

FOSS enables researchers to verify finite element models to a high degree of spatial resolution. It also allows researchers to identify unexpected phenomena in cases where a model is not completely accurate or does not contain enough degrees of specificity. The system enables both validation and discovery, making the entire research process more effective and efficient.

Commercial rocket providers are using FOSS in their laboratories and companies in a variety of industries are exploring how FOSS can improve their operations. The FOSS team continues to refine algorithms to support additional applications, with the goal of adding FOSS to the suite of instrumentation on NASA aircraft, as well as other assets across the agency.

Armstrong and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center researchers have collaborated for years to ruggedize the FOSS so it can be used to measure aggressive launch loads on spacecraft. Further collaborations with industry partners have resulted in durable instrumentation and Armstrong researchers are now readying a new combination of mechanical enclosure and instrumentation for launch within the next year on several rocket launches. The goal is for this “rocket box” to fly on NASA’s Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, as well as with other commercial launch providers.

The FOSS team has assembled five rocket boxes and completed early-stage environmental testing to simulate rocket launch conditions. Next steps are to complete electrical testing in preparation for shipment to NASA’s Langley Research Center for final environmental testing. The goal is to validate that FOSS can provide critical parameter measures (e.g., strain, load, temperature, shape) in aggressive launch environments.

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