As an alternative to conventional tubing instrumentation for measuring airflow, designers and technicians at Glenn Research Center have been fabricating packaging components and assembling a set of unique probes that contain commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensor chips. MEMS sensor chips offer some compelling advantages over standard macroscopic measurement devices. MEMS sensor technology has matured through mass production and use in the automotive and aircraft industries. At present, MEMS are the devices of choice for sensors in such applications as tire-pressure monitors, altimeters, pneumatic controls, cable leak detectors, and consumer appliances. Compactness, minimality of power demand, rugged construction, and moderate cost all contribute to making MEMS sensors attractive for instrumentation for future research.

Conventional macroscopic flow-measurement instrumentation includes tubes buried beneath the aerodynamic surfaces of wind-tunnel models or in wind-tunnel walls. Pressure is introduced at the opening of each such tube. The pressure must then travel along the tube before reaching a transducer that generates an electronic signal. The lengths of such tubes typically range from 20 ft (6 m) to hundreds of feet (of the order of 100 m). The propagation of pressure signals in the tubes damps the signals considerably and makes it necessary to delay measurements until after test rigs have reached steady-state operation. In contrast, a MEMS pressure sensor that generates electronic output can take readings continuously under dynamic conditions in nearly real time.

This Probe Containing Three COTS MEMS Sensor Chips is designed to measure flow angularity in a plane. A planned similar probe will contain five MEMS sensors for measuring flow angularity in three dimensions.

In order to use stainless-steel tubing for pressure measurements, it is necessary to clean many tubes, cut them to length, carefully install them, delicately deburr them, and splice them. A cluster of a few hundred 1/16-in.- (1.6-mm-) diameter tubes (such clusters are common in research testing facilities) can be several inches (of the order of 10 cm) in diameter and could weigh enough that two technicians are needed to handle it. Replacing hard tubing with electronic chips can eliminate much of the bulk. Each sensor would fit on the tip of a 1/16-in. tube with room to spare.

The Lucas NovaSensor P592 piezoresistive silicon pressure sensor was chosen for this project because of its cost, availability, and tolerance to extreme ambient conditions. The sensor chip is 1 mm square by 0.6 mm thick (about 0.039 by 0.039 by 0.024 in.) and includes 0.12-mm (0.005-in.) wire connection tabs.

The figure shows a flow-angularity probe that was built by use of three such MEMS chips. It is planned to demonstrate this MEMS probe as an alternative to a standard tube-type "Cobra" probe now used routinely in wind tunnels and aeronautical hardware. This MEMS probe could be translated across a flow field by use of a suitable actuator, so that its accuracy and the shortness of its response time could be exploited to obtain precise dynamic measurements of a sort that cannot be made by use of conventional tubing-based instrumentation.

This work was done by Chip Redding, Floyd A. Smith, and Greg Blank of Glenn Research Center and Charles Cruzan of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Commercial Technology Office
Attn: Steve Fedor
Mail Stop 4-8
21000 Brookpark Road
Ohio 44135.

Refer to LEW-17243.