Special Coverage

NASA Supercomputer Simulations Reveal 'Noisy' Aerodynamics
Robotic Gripper Cleans Up Space Debris
Soft Robot “Walks” on Any Terrain
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Using Microwaves to Produce High-Quality Graphene
Transducer-Actuator Systems for On-Machine Measurements and Automatic Part Alignment
Wide-Area Surveillance Using HD LWIR Uncooled Sensors
Heavy Lift Wing in Ground (WIG) Cargo Flying Boat
Technique Provides Security for Multi-Robot Systems
Bringing New Vision to Laser Material Processing Systems
NASA Tests Lasers’ Ability to Transmit Data from Space

Micromachined Emitter/Bolometer Structures for Infrared Gas Sensors

Infrared gas sensors that could be mass-produced at relatively low cost have been proposed for a variety of applications — for example, detecting carbon monoxide in air inside houses. A sensor of this type would include a housing into which ambient air could diffuse. The gas of interest would be detected via an infrared absorption measurement. The novel micromachined emitter/bolometer structure being developed is a heated strip of lithographically patterned, single-crystal silicon that will function as both an emitter of infrared radiation at a precise wavelength and as a bolometer. The emitted radiation would traverse a path within the sensor housing and would be reflected back along that path to the emitter/bolometer. In the presence of an infrared-absorbing gas, the amount of radiation returning to the emitter/ bolometer would decrease, causing the emitter/bolometer to come to thermal equilibrium at a lower temperature than it would in the absence of such a gas. The temperature-dependent electrical resistance of the emitter/bolometer would be measured and used to infer the concentration of the infrared-absorbing gas.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Architecture, Sensors and actuators, Architecture, Sensors and actuators, Air pollution, Gases
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Deployable Shell Structures With Shape-Control Actuators

Advanced control systems that include built-in smart-material elastic-deformation structural actuators have been proposed for deployable thin-shell structures that are required to be maintained in precise shapes once deployed. This approach to structural shape control was conceived to enable the development of lightweight telescope mirrors, radar reflectors, and the like that could be stowed compactly for launching and transport, then deployed in outer space to required precise shapes at much larger dimensions (of the order of 10 m). The concept may also be applicable to similar, but probably smaller structures for terrestrial use.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Smart materials
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Software for Simulating Two-Phase Systems

Møtran (signifying "multi-phase transient") is a package of software for simulating flows in two-phase (gas/liquid) fluid systems like networks of such components as pipes, T junctions, pumps, evaporators, and condensers. The software is based on a two-fluid formulation that can accommodate unequal velocities and temperatures for the two phases. Møtran provides for single-phase, bubbly, slug, stratified, and annular flow regimes. Mechanistic models are used for establishing the boundaries between flow regimes and for constitutive relations that represent wall shear, interfacial shear, wall heat transfer, interfacial heat transfer, and phase change. Constitutive models are provided for each of the flow regimes, and all are selected and calculated dynamically during solution for each grid point in the network. The software is applicable at all levels of gravitation, whether steady or time varying. Møtran includes a state-of-the-art graphical user interface (GUI) and an integrated fluid-property database. The user assembles the representation of the fluid system (which can be of arbitrary topology) through drag-and-drop operations on the GUI. The software predicts pressures, volume fractions, temperatures, and velocities of the phases throughout the system.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Simulation and modeling, Computer software / hardware, Computer software and hardware, Computer software / hardware, Computer software and hardware
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Software for Improved Processing of DRWP Signals

The Automated Adaptive Signal Processing (AASP) computer program extracts wind data from the outputs of Doppler-radar wind profilers (DRWPs). Unlike prior software used for this purpose, AASP does not rely on manual intervention to prevent a DRWP system from locking onto and tracking interfering signals (e.g., signals from side lobes of radar beams). AASP identifies interference signals in the range-gated spectra produced by a DRWP, then tracks the height- and time-continuous atmospheric signal in each radar beam. AASP then combines the radial velocity components from three or five beams and computes the horizontal and vertical wind components. AASP produces high-quality wind profiles within a single radar cycle, without need for averaging for quality control. It also calculates an indication of the level of confidence with each wind estimate. The single-cycle capability enables users to detect temporal shifts in wind earlier and with greater confidence than was possible by use of prior software. AASP comprises two coupled software subsystems: (1) a subsystem that implements signal-processing algorithms and (2) a subsystem that provides a quality-control capability and that generates displays of spectra, of wind estimates, and of the performances of the DRWP hardware.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Computer software / hardware, Computer software and hardware, Data acquisition and handling, Radar, Computer software / hardware, Computer software and hardware, Data acquisition and handling, Radar
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Large-Aperture Telescope Synthesized From Small Mirrors

A report proposes a design concept for synthesizing a reflecting telescope with a large-aperture (diameter ≈100 m) primary mirror from a sparse arrangement of four smaller (diameter ≈10 m) primary mirrors. The telescope would be placed in orbit for viewing Earth with high resolution. The primary and secondary mirrors would be mounted on a lightweight structure that would be deployed in orbit.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Mirrors, Test equipment and instrumentation
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Uplink/Downlink Spacecraft Radio Occultation Measurements

A report proposes a method to increase the accuracy of Doppler measurements made at the beginnings and endings of Earth/spacecraft radio occultations. Such measurements can reveal structural details of occulting objects in outer space. Heretofore, one-way measurements have been used, and have been subject to degradation of accuracy by frequency fluctuations of an onboard oscillator.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Measurements, Radar, Radar, Performance upgrades, Spacecraft
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Integrated Environmental Monitoring Instrument

A miniature, battery-powered, semiautonomous environmental monitoring instrument contains advanced meteorological sensors, a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver for determining its position, radio-communication circuitry, and a controller that performs measurement, control, and data-communication interface functions. The instrument could serve as a high-accuracy radiosonde, though its intended use is in providing reference measurements for calibration and comparison of ordinary radiosondes.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Measurements, Sensors and actuators, Sensors and actuators, Test equipment and instrumentation
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Molten-Carbonate Electrolyzers for Making CO and O2

Electrochemical cells in which molten carbonates would serve as electrolytes have been proposed for use in electrolyzing CO2. The proposal was made in an effort to implement a concept of in situ resource utilization (ISRU) for the exploration of Mars; the basic idea is to generate CO (if needed as a fuel) and O2 (for oxidizing fuel and/or for breathing) by electrolysis of CO2 from the Martian atmosphere. On Earth, molten-carbonate electrolyzers could be used to make breathable O2 for medical use, pure O2 for oxidizing surfaces of semiconductor chips, and CO as a feedstock for synthesis of alcohols and hydrocarbons. In both terrestrial and spacecraft life-support systems, the electrolyzers could be used to regenerate breathable O2 from CO2.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Carbon dioxide, Carbon monoxide, Oxygen
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Improved Spherical Energy Analyzer

An improved spherical energy analyzer (a type of electrostatic mass spectrometer) is under development for use in analyzing a beam of ions generated by a Hall thruster. The major improvement, relative to a commercial spherical energy analyzer, is the addition of a quadrupole stage (with refocusing electron optics) for separating ions of different charge states. The development work also includes efforts to make the instrument smaller and lighter than the commercial version in order to make it possible to translate and rotate the instrument through the ion beam inside a vacuum chamber that contains the Hall thruster.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Test equipment and instrumentation
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Redundant Oxygen-Deficiency Monitoring System

An oxygen-deficiency monitoring system (ODMS) has been developed for a ten-room facility in which the use of large amounts of nitrogen and helium could cause an oxygen deficiency severe enough to be hazardous to personnel. The ODMS comprises three subsystems, of which two monitor three rooms each, and one monitors four rooms. The ODMS generates alarms when the oxygen content of the air in a room falls below 19.5 mole percent. Each subsystem includes transport pumps that draw air continuously from each room through two tubes. Each subsystem includes two oxygen analyzers equipped with sampling pumps, plus two programmable-logic controllers (PLCs) and associated hardware that control electrically actuated valves that admit small fractions of the transport flows to the oxygen analyzers. The PLCs cause the valves to connect the two oxygen analyzers to two different sampling tubes, and then to switch the connections to a different pair of sampling tubes after an interval of about 10 seconds, and so forth until the air from all sampling points has been monitored, and then the sequence repeats. If one sampling tube, oxygen analyzer, pump, or PLC fails, it can be repaired while the system continues to operate, albeit at a reduced rate.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, Oxygen, Test equipment and instrumentation
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