A prototype wireless data-acquisition system has been developed as a potential replacement for a wired data-acquisition system heretofore used in testing rocket engines. The traditional use of wires to connect sensors, signal-conditioning circuits, and data acquisition circuitry is time-consuming and prone to error, especially when, as is often the case, many sensors are used in a test.

The system includes one master and multiple slave nodes. The master node communicates with a computer via an Ethernet connection. The slave nodes are powered by rechargeable batteries and are packaged in weatherproof enclosures. The master unit and each of the slave units are equipped with a time-modulated ultra-wide-band (TM-UWB) radio transceiver, which spreads its RF energy over several gigahertz by transmitting extremely low-power and super-narrow pulses. In this prototype system, each slave node can be connected to as many as six sensors: two sensors can be connected directly to analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) in the slave node and four sensors can be connected indirectly to the ADCs via signal conditioners. The maximum sampling rate for streaming data from any given sensor is about 5 kHz. The bandwidth of one channel of the TM-UWB radio communication system is sufficient to accommodate streaming of data from five slave nodes when they are fully loaded with data collected through all possible sensor connections. TM-UWB radios have a much higher spatial capacity than traditional sinusoidal wave-based radios. Hence, this TMUWB wireless data-acquisition can be scaled to cover denser sensor setups for rocket engine test stands. Another advantage of TM-UWB radios is that it will not interfere with existing wireless transmission.

The maximum radio-communication range between the master node and a slave node for this prototype system is about 50 ft (15 m) when the master and slave transceivers are equipped with small dipole antennas. The range can be increased by changing to larger antennas and/or greater transmission power. The battery life of a slave node ranges from about six hours during operation at full capacity to as long as three days when the system is in a "sleep" mode used to conserve battery charge during times between setup and rocket-engine testing. Batteries can be added to prolong operational lifetimes. The radio transceiver dominates the power consumption.

The software running in the computer enables users to do any or all of the following:

  • Remotely controls the sleeping/awakening schedule of the slave nodes.
  • Manage the sampling rates and latencies of readings of specific sensors to satisfy specific requirements and maximize utilization of the system.
  • Synchronize the operations of all nodes.

This work was done by Chujen Lin, Ben Lonske, Yalin Hou, Yingjiu Xu, and Mei Gang of Intelligent Automation, Inc. for Stennis Space Center.

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

Intelligent Automation, Inc.
15400 Calhoun Drive, Suite 400
Rockville, MD 20850
Phone: (301) 294-5236
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to SSC-00231, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.