Real-Time Fiber Optic Sensing System

Lance Richards
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center
Edwards, CA
“The entire team of researchers who have dedicated years to the development of the FOSS technology is honored to receive this award. Since the beginning of our work, we wanted to create a better sensing system, making structural monitoring more comprehensive and lightweight. As we realized how broadly applicable FOSS was, we were inspired to keep innovating.“

A team at NASA Armstrong has developed fiber optic sensing system (FOSS) technology that represents a major breakthrough in high-speed operational monitoring and sensing. Driven by ultra-efficient algorithms, FOSS can be used to determine, in real time, a variety of critical parameters including strain, shape deformation, temperature, liquid level, and operational loads. This state-of-the-art sensor system delivers reliable measurements in the most demanding environments confronted by aerospace, automotive, and energy sectors. FOSS is ideal for monitoring the structural health of aircraft, buildings, and dams; improving the efficiency of turbines and industrial equipment; and detecting instabilities within tunnels and power plants.

The system offers unprecedented levels of spatial density, as each of the eight 40-foot hair-like optical fibers provides up to 2,000 data points, with adjustable spatial resolution for a total of 16,000 sensors per system. To achieve these capabilities, FOSS employs fiber Bragg grating (FBG) sensors and a combination of optical frequency domain reflectometry (OFDR) for high spatial resolution, and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) for high acquisition speed, together with an interferometer technique that can simultaneously interrogate thousands of FBG sensors on a single fiber. Each of the 16,000 OFDR sensors can be sampled up to 100 samples per second, while several dozen of these sensors can be sampled at rates up to 35,000 times per second for high dynamic applications.

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With thousands of sensors on a single fiber, sensors can be placed at 1/16" intervals, enabling precise, high-resolution measurements in locations where conventional strain gauges will not fit. The real-time algorithms and processing system measure strain at multiple locations along the length of the fiber while attached to the surface of a structure.

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Honorable Mentions

Bluetooth-Enabled Amplifier

Ervin Scott, Sun Hydraulics Corp., Sarasota, FL

The Bluetooth Embedded Amplifier configures embedded amplifiers for hydraulic valve control without using a PC or connecting with wires. It can be configured via an iOS or An droid app using Bluetooth for quick, easy, reliable wireless calibration. Tech nicians can be in close proximity to observe machine operation while remaining untethered and completely safe when setting up and calibrating the machine behavior. It features a 30-foot range and is accessible through the free AmpSet Blue™ app. Two indicator LEDs — Power/Status and Active — allow users to determine the status of the amplifier from a distance.

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Direct Methanol Feed Fuel Cell and System

Subbarao Surampudi, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

This direct-feed fuel cell is cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient than existing fuel cells. The methanol fuel cell is able to recycle the water used during its reaction, so a vehicle powered by the fuel cell would be lighter and more efficient. In addition, while state-of-the-art fuel cells use an expensive platinum catalyst to drive their chemical reactions, this fuel cell uses a catalyst that almost entirely eliminates the need for platinum. This fuel cell is ideal for vehicles and other portable applications because it permits the use of high-performance alternative fuels that can be stored and transported with ease. The direct-feed fuel cell eliminates the acid-induced corrosion that plagues conventional fuel cells.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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