NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) has developed compact, reconfigurable electronic devices to drive and control avionics instruments. Typical avionics systems function through centralized power distribution units (PDUs), which have complex, expensive, and time-consuming design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E) cycles. To increase efficiency and lower design and implementation costs, the Standardized Multipurpose Avionics with Reconfigurable Technology (SMART) has been developed, replacing the PDU and sensor signal conditioning functions. By replacing the PDU, the system is able to process commands and condition signals at the application site, thus lowering system load. SMART can also be reconfigured for new tasks without changing hardware. This means functions can be added or changed later in the DDT&E cycle and even during integration, helping to reduce cost and schedule impact while enabling responsiveness to changing application needs.

Current centralized avionic architectures rely on highly integrated, complex PDUs that require support equipment, usually larger than the unit itself, and require high software development costs. SMART features a small form factor and enables co-location with sensors or actuators to reduce the amount of wiring needed, thus reducing the total onboard non-payload mass. Using fewer wires reduces the potential for electromagnetic interference (EMI). The small footprint reduces energy load, resulting in lower heating/cooling requirements. The streamlined technology reduces workload and computing requirements on centralized command-and-data-handling (C&DH) systems.

The drive module (SMART-D) provides command-and-control functionality for multiple end-item avionics applications, while the sensor module (SMART-S) performs signal-conditioning functions for sensing, monitoring, and operating different avionics flight sensors. The SMART avionics are flight qualified and use standard connections, such as RS485, RS232, Ethernet, and others, leading to simple interfaces between systems with only communication/power lines connecting modules to the main avionic system. Function reconfiguration is achieved through software, avoiding the need to change hardware; additional development is required only when new functions that have not been previously developed are needed. This technology can be used in onboard avionics, ground-based industrial manufacturing systems, environmental remote sensing and monitoring, unmanned refinery equipment, and equipment for highly specialized research labs environments such as cleanrooms.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact Sammy A. Nabors at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/MFS-TOPS-60 .


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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