New NASA Mission to Study Mysterious Neutron Stars, Aid in Deep Space Navigation

Though we know neutron stars are small and extremely dense, there are still many aspects of these remnants of explosive deaths of other stars that we have yet to understand. NICER, a facility to be mounted on the outside of the International Space Station, seeks to find the answers to some of the questions still being asked about neutron stars. By capturing the arrival time and energy of the X-ray photons produced by pulsars emitted by neutron stars, NICER seeks to answer decades-old questions about extreme forms of matter and energy. Data from NICER will also be used in SEXTANT, an on-board demonstration of pulsar-based navigation.
Credits: NASA’s Johnson Space Center

 

A new NASA mission is headed for the International Space Station next month to observe one of the strangest observable objects in the universe.

Launching June 1, the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) will be installed aboard the space station as the first mission dedicated to studying neutron stars, a type of collapsed star that is so dense scientists are unsure how matter behaves deep inside it.

A neutron star begins its life as a star between about seven and 20 times the mass of our sun. When this type of star runs out of fuel, it collapses under its own weight, crushing its core and triggering a supernova explosion. What remains is an ultra-dense sphere only about 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, the size of a city, but with up to twice the mass of our sun squeezed inside. On Earth, one teaspoon of neutron star matter would weigh a billion tons.

“If you took Mount Everest and squeezed it into something like a sugar cube, that’s the kind of density we’re talking about,” said Keith Gendreau, the principal investigator for NICER at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Because neutron stars are so dense, scientists are uncertain how matter behaves in their interiors. In everyday experience, objects are composed of atoms. When neutron stars form, their atoms become crushed together and merge. As a result, the bulk of a neutron star is made up of tightly packed subatomic particles — primarily neutrons, as well as protons and electrons, in various states. NICER measurements will help scientists better understand how matter behaves in this environment.

“As soon as you go below the surface of a neutron star, the pressures and densities rise extremely rapidly, and soon you’re in an environment that you can’t produce in any lab on Earth,” said Columbia University research scientist Slavko Bogdanov, who leads the NICER light curve modeling group.

The only object known to be denser than a neutron star is its dark cousin, the black hole. A black hole forms when a star more than approximately 20 times the mass of our sun collapses. A black hole’s powerful gravity establishes a barrier known as an event horizon, which prevents direct observation. So scientists turn to neutron stars to study matter at nature’s most extreme observable limit.

“Neutron stars represent a natural density limit for stable matter that you can’t exceed without becoming a black hole,” said Goddard’s Zaven Arzoumanian, NICER deputy principal investigator and science lead. “We don’t know what happens to matter near this maximum density.”

In order to study this limit, NICER will observe rapidly rotating neutron stars, also known as pulsars. These stars can rotate hundreds of times per second, faster than the blades of a household blender. Pulsars also possess enormously strong magnetic fields, trillions of times stronger than Earth’s. The combination of fast rotation and strong magnetism accelerates particles to nearly the speed of light. Some of these particles follow the magnetic field to the surface, raining down on the magnetic poles and heating them until they form so-called hot spots that glow brightly in X-ray light.

“NICER is designed to see the X-ray emission from those hot spots,” Arzoumanian said. “As the spots sweep toward us, we see more intensity as they move into our sightline and less as they move out, brightening and dimming hundreds of times each second.”

A neutron star’s gravity is so strong it warps space-time, the fabric of the cosmos, distorting our view of the star’s surface and its sweeping hot spots. NICER will measure brightness changes related to these distortions as the star spins. This will allow scientists to determine the pulsar’s radius, a key measurement needed to fully understand its interior structure.

“Once we have a measure of the mass and radius, we can tie those results directly into the nuclear physics of what goes on when you compress so much mass into such a small volume,” Arzoumanian said.

In addition to understanding how neutron stars are put together, NICER’s observations will also help scientists better understand the critical mass a star must achieve before it can turn into a black hole. This is particularly important in systems where neutron stars orbit another star, allowing them to pull material off the companion star and gain more mass.

“The more neutron stars we observe at high masses, the higher the mass threshold becomes for a star turning into a black hole,” said NICER science team member Alice Harding at Goddard. “Understanding what that critical mass is will help us determine how many black holes and neutron stars there are in the universe.”

NICER will also provide scientists and technologists with a unique opportunity to make advances in deep space navigation. Its X-ray measurements will record the arrival times of pulses from each neutron star it observes, using the regular emissions of pulsars as ultra-precise cosmic clocks, rivaling the accuracy of atomic clocks such as those used inside GPS satellites. Built-in flight software — developed for the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) demonstration — can see how the predicted arrival of X-ray pulses from a given neutron star changes as NICER moves in its orbit. The difference between expected and actual arrival times allows SEXTANT to determine NICER’s orbit solely by observing pulsars.

Although spacecraft in Earth orbit use the same GPS system that helps drivers navigate on the ground, there’s no equivalent system available for spacecraft traveling far beyond Earth.

“Unlike GPS satellites, which just orbit around Earth, pulsars are distributed across our galaxy,” said Jason Mitchell, the SEXTANT project manager at Goddard. “So we can use them to form a GPS-like system that can support spacecraft navigation throughout the solar system, enabling deep-space exploration in the future.”

Installation on the space station provides scientists and technologists with an opportunity to develop a multi-purpose mission on an established platform.

“With the NICER-SEXTANT mission, we have an excellent opportunity to use the International Space Station to demonstrate technology that will lead us into the outer solar system and beyond, and tell us about some of the most exciting objects in the sky,” Gendreau said.

NICER is an Astrophysics Mission of Opportunity within NASA’s Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas. NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate supports the SEXTANT component of the mission, demonstrating pulsar-based spacecraft navigation.

 
Related Links:

NASA’s NICER mission website
More information on SEXTANT
Download NICER-SEXTANT multimedia resources

 
 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Close-up View of Neutron Star Mission’s X-Ray Concentrator Optics

A new NASA mission, the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), is headed for the International Space Station next month to observe one of the strangest observable objects in the universe. Launching aboard SpaceX’s CRS-11 commercial resupply mission, NICER will be installed aboard the orbiting laboratory as the first mission dedicated to studying neutron stars, a type of collapsed star that is so dense scientists are unsure how matter behaves deep inside it.

In this photo, NICER’s X-ray concentrator optics are inspected under a black light for dust and foreign object debris that could impair functionality once in space. The payload’s 56 mirror assemblies concentrate X-rays onto silicon detectors to gather data that will probe the interior makeup of neutron stars, including those that appear to flash regularly, called pulsars.

The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is a NASA Explorer Mission of Opportunity dedicated to studying the extraordinary environments — strong gravity, ultra-dense matter, and the most powerful magnetic fields in the universe — embodied by neutron stars. An attached payload aboard the International Space Station, NICER will deploy an instrument with unique capabilities for timing and spectroscopy of fast X-ray brightness fluctuations. The embedded Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology demonstration (SEXTANT) will use NICER data to validate, for the first time in space, technology that exploits pulsars as natural navigation beacons.

More: New NASA Mission to Study Mysterious Neutron Stars, Aid in Deep Space Navigation

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Keith Gendreau

 
 
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Nanotechnology Flight Test: Material Impact on the Future

Nanotechnology Flight Test Material

Mastering the intricacies of controlling matter at the nanoscale level is part of a revolutionary quest to apply nanotechnology to benefit industrial processes. A key element of that technology is the use of carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes are small hollow tubes with diameters of 0.7 to 50 nanometers and lengths generally in the tens of microns. While ultra-small, carbon nanotubes offer big-time attributes.

For instance, materials can be manufactured that exhibit superior strength but are still extremely lightweight.

carbon nanotube Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessel (COPV)

A carbon nanotube Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessel (COPV) is to fly this month as part of the SubTec-7 mission using a 56-foot tall Black Brant IX rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Shown here is the SubTec7 payload undergoing final testing and evaluation at Wallops Flight Facility. Credits: NASA/Berit Bland

Think in terms of 200 times the strength and five times the elasticity of steel. For good measure, add in that they offer highly-efficient electrical and thermal conductivity.

Reduce mass, improve performance

No wonder then that NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is keenly interested in nanotechnology – an approach that can reduce the mass and improve the performance of aerospace systems.

For example, NASA computer modeling analysis has shown that composites using carbon nanotube reinforcements could lead to a 30 percent reduction in the total mass of a launch vehicle.

“No single technology would have that much of an impact to reduce the mass of a launch vehicle by that much,” explains Michael Meador, Program Element Manager for Lightweight Materials and Manufacturing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. “I’m not trying to be cliché, but that is a game changer!”

Nanocomp of Merrimack

NASA worked with industry partner, Nanocomp of Merrimack, New Hampshire to produce carbon nanotube (CNT) fibers to fabricate a carbon nanotube Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessel.
Credits: Nanocomp

Flight testing

Soon-to-fly hardware will test the tensile properties of a carbon nanotube fiber-based composite tank over that of conventional carbon fiber epoxy composites. A Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel – COPV for short – will take to the skies aboard a sounding rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 16.

“We’re going to use the COPV as part of a cold-gas thruster system,” Meador explains, noting that this involves moving the rocket’s payload during its flight, as well as spinning up the payload to improve the rocket’s aerodynamics during its descent to Earth. “We are one experiment in that payload, but it’s a pioneering flight. This is first time that carbon nanotube-based composites have been flight-tested in a structural component,” he said.

Tensile strength tests

Tensile strength tests were performed in advanced of the flight test to help engineers predict the loads the article could experience before failing. Credits: NASA

NASA-industry collaboration

The COPV project has involved several NASA centers – Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center, the Marshall Space Flight Center – as well as industry.

NASA collaborated with Nanocomp in Merrimack, New Hampshire to make nanotube yarns and sheets, with the space agency developing specialized processing methods to fabricate COPVs.

“We were interested not just in developing high-strength composites from carbon nanotube yarns but also in demonstrating their performance by building an actual component and flight testing it,” Meador adds. “The COPV flight test will go a long way in showing that these materials are ready for use in future NASA missions.”

A demonstration flight article is wound with carbon nanotube composites.

A demonstration flight article is wound with carbon nanotube composites. Credits: NASA

Nanotube yarns

The suborbital rocket flight of a COPV is a first step, explains Emilie Siochi, a research materials engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “This COPV represents the first large item that we’ve built” by turning nanotube yarns into composites. Early on at the start of the initiative, she says carbon nanotube fiber material was only available in small quantities. That needed to change.

“We had to improve the properties, improve the quality and the quantity,” Siochi points out. The NASA-industry relationship was invaluable to scale up the material for space agency use, she says, and qualifying the COPV for a flight test has assisted in maturing the technology too.

“There’s potential for the structural properties of carbon nanotubes to be much stronger than carbon fiber composites, now the state of the art for structural material,” Siochi says. “So if it’s stronger, we’ll be able to build lighter structures needed for access to space.”

 
Investment payoff

COPV tank snug inside sounding rocket.

COPV tank snug inside sounding rocket.
Credits: NASA

Meador sees a bright and long-lasting future for carbon nanotube materials.

“When we first started to get into nanotechnology research we were looking at where did it make sense for NASA to invest…where could a huge payoff be for the agency, be it in weight savings, performance, or reduced power consumption,” Meador suggests.

There’s more work to be done in terms of improving the material’s mechanical properties, as well as fabricating the yarn fiber in quantities to make it competitive with conventional carbon fiber.

“There’s a big payoff, not just for aerospace applications,” Meador observes. Use of carbon nanotube materials, say in cutting down the weight of ground transportation vehicles, could lead to a huge savings from less fuel consumption and also lessening carbon dioxide emissions. Likewise, the insertion of the technology into aircraft is another area that deserves further attention, he adds.

“We’re not looking at magic materials. Rather, we’re finding that when you get down to the nanoscale, there are certain features of materials at that scale that give rise to new properties, new physics that you don’t see above that scale,” Meador concludes. “And that’s what it’s all about. Seeing how you can control and exploit those properties.”

For more information on NASA’s work in nanotechnology, see this episode of NASA EDGE about how this technology is being used in sensors and various materials. It is high risk, high reward:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a2WBmvoXlI

 
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Sounding Rocket Mission May 16 Providing Real-World Test for New Technologies

New rocket and spacecraft technology can be tested on the ground, such as in labs. However, in some cases a new technology needs to be flight tested to see how it performs in the “real-world” environment.

A NASA sounding rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on May 16 will provide the flight testing needed for 24 experiments and new technologies.

The launch of a 56-foot tall Black Brant IX rocket is scheduled between 5:45 and 6:40 a.m. EDT and can be seen by residents on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland. Backup launch days are May 17 – 19.

Cathy Hesh, technology manager for the sounding rocket program office at Wallops, said, “Sounding rockets are not only used for conducting science missions but also provide an excellent platform for technology development. While the flight is short in duration, enough flight time is provided to test the new technologies.”

The SubTec-7 mission will test technologies, many of which were developed at Wallops, to improve the capabilities of sounding rockets for supporting science missions and also those that may be applied to spacecraft.

The primary goal of the flight is to test two capabilities for sounding rocket missions to improve payload recovery systems. The first is a shutter door system that will allow recovery of a telescope payload in water environments, expanding the capabilities for science research.

For example, launches from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific Ocean would allow telescope observations from the southern hemisphere. Currently, telescope missions are limited to land recovery locations such as the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, providing viewing from the northern hemisphere.

The second goal of the flight is to update the electronic and mechanical systems of the current recovery system whose heritage dates back to the 1970s. These updates also will decrease the system’s length and weight, which will allow for comparable increases in science instruments that can be flown.

The nearly 1,200-pound payload is planned to be recovered. After an approximate 17-minute flight, the payload is expected to descend by parachute and land in the Atlantic Ocean about 106 miles from Wallops Island, Virginia.

In addition, electrical and other components are being tested, many for flight qualification, that will improve sounding rocket payload capabilities. These include a solar sensor, low cost star tracker, power supply, timer, command and uplink stack, receiver transmitter, inertial measurement unit and a solid state altimeter.

Also, three packages are being flight tested under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development program. These tests include a carbon nanotube Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessel, a joint effort by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama; a CubeSat test of ultra-lightweight materials from Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia; and a Mars Packing Efficiency Payload from NASA Langley.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 5 a.m. on launch day for viewing the flight. The rocket launch is expected to be seen throughout Chesapeake Bay region.

Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at 5:15 a.m. on the Wallops Ustream site. Launch updates also are available via the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites. Facebook Live coverage begins at 5:30 a.m.

Smartphone users can download the “What’s Up at Wallops” app, which contains information on the launch as well as a compass showing the precise direction for launch viewing.

NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Orbital ATK provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations for the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding-rocket program for the agency.

Photo caption: SubTec7 payload undergoes final testing and evaluation at Wallops.
Photo credit: NASA Berit Bland

Keith Koehler
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia
keith.a.koehler@nasa.gov
757-824-1579

 
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NASA reveals the robotic ICEBOTS set to tunnel through the icy surface of Europa to hunt for alien life in its underground oceans

 
 
 

Because Jupiter’s moon, Europa, has oceans lying beneath its surface, it said to be one of the most likely places in the solar system for life to thrive – researchers just have to burrow through miles of ice to find out.
Now, NASA has unveiled a team of robotic prototypes equip with special tools to penetrate the frozen terrain and search for signs of living microbes.

The squad of ‘icebots’ includes a machine that tunnels through the icy surface, a folding boom arm, an ice gripping claw and a projectile launcher capable of grabbing samples up to 164 feet away.

Since 2015, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been developing new technologies for use on future missions to ocean worlds.

The new prototypes were created as part of the Ocean World’s Mobility and Sensing study, a research project funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.

And each of the technologies are specifically designed to gather samples from and below the surface of an icy moon.
‘In the future, we want to answer the question of whether there’s life on the moons of the outer planets – on Europa, Enceladus and Titan,’ said Tom Cwik, who leads JPL’s Space Technology Program.

‘We’re working with NASA Headquarters to identify the specific systems we need to build now, so that in 10 or 15 years, they could be ready for a spacecraft.’

The team has conducted extensive research to understand the harsh elements these robotic helpers would face millions of miles away.

This includes temperate reaching hundreds of degrees below freezing and rovers crossing icy terrain that behaves like sand.

‘Robotic systems would face cryogenic temperatures and rugged terrain and have to meet strict planetary protection requirements,’ said Hari Nayar, who leads the robotics group that oversaw the research.

 
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*Source: DailyMail.co.UK

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Tiny Probes Hold Big Promise for Future NASA Missions

Video of a probe-shaped test article that is a nearly-perfect match to the TVA flight article, tested in the IHF (Interactive Heating Facility) arc jet at a constant condition, matching the anticipated flight total heat load on the probe. After the flight, we will subject another test article with time-profiled heating to simulate the conditions determined from the actual flight trajectory reconstruction. This will be the first time we will have arc jet tested and flight tested the exact same geometry and materials.

 
 

This picture shows the entry probe and the metal outer shell. The metal shell allows the probe to be connected with the supply ship and also facilitates the probe to be released during break-up of the supply spacecraft during reentry. Credits: NASA

Sometimes to find the best solution to a big problem, you have to start small.

A team of NASA engineers has been working on a new type of Thermal Protection System (TPS) for spacecraft that would improve upon the status quo.

Having seen success in the laboratory with these new materials, the next step is to test in space.

The Conformal Ablative Thermal Protection System, or CA-TPS, will be installed on a small probe flight article provided by Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) and launched on Orbital ATK’s seventh contracted commercial resupply services mission for NASA to the International Space Station on April 18.

TVA’s RED Data2 probe, only slightly larger than a soccer ball, is an unmanned exploratory spacecraft designed to transmit information about its environment.

 

The three probes shown in the above picture will reentry during the supply spacecraft break-up and collect data. The probe on the left has conformal TPS, the probe in the middle is Orion’s Avcoat TPS and the probe on the right is made of Shuttle Tile. Credits: NASA

“The purpose of the flight test is to gather supply vehicle break up data and at the same time demonstrate performance of the conformal ablative thermal protection system as the probe—encapsulated with TPS—enters Earth’s atmosphere,” explained Ethiraj Venkatapathy, project manager for Thermal Protection System Materials with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Game Changing Development (GCD) program. “Thermal protection is a vital element that safeguards a spacecraft from burning up during entry.”

“Data obtained from flight tests like this one with TVA and NASA, combined with testing at different atmospheric compositions, allows us to build design tools with higher confidence for entry into other planetary atmospheres such as Venus, Mars or Titan,” he continued. “Partnering with a small business to get flight data for a developmental material is a very inexpensive way of achieving multiple goals.”

The TPS Venkatapathy and his team are designing uses newly emerging materials called conformal PICA (C-PICA) and conformal SIRCA (C-SIRCA), short for Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator and Silicone Impregnated Reusable Ceramic Ablator, respectively.

The probe is essentially a hard aeroshell covered with the TPS and outfitted with sensors called thermocouples. To measure temperature during atmospheric entry, the thermocouples are embedded within the heat shield’s C-PICA and the back shell’s C-SIRCA to capture data for understanding how the materials behave in an actual entry environment.

With funding through STMD/GCD, NASA’s Ames Research Center led the work providing conformal ablative materials and TPS instrumentation installed on Terminal Velocity’s probes. Terminal Velocity is also working with NASA’s Johnson Space Center with funding from STMD’s Small Business Innovation Research program for miniaturizing and improving the data acquisition and transmission system as well as providing support for ISS flight certification.

Through the ISS Exploration Flight Project Initiative, Johnson certified three TVA probes for flight. One probe uses the conformal ablative materials, another has the Orion heat-shield material and the third probe uses shuttle tile material for reference. TVA delivered the assembled probes to the Cargo Mission Contract group for this flight.

After Orbital ATK’s resupply services launch arrives at the ISS, the probes will remain on the cargo ship awaiting their opportunity to go to work. Projected to be released from the ISS in June, once the cargo ship reenters Earth’s atmosphere and breaks up, the probes will deploy and then begin capturing data through the thermocouples embedded in the TPS.

“The probes are designed to be released from the metallic shell and once they are released, they start to get heated. The thermal response data are collected from the various locations where thermocouples are embedded within the TPS,” explains Robin Beck, technical lead for the conformal TPS development. “The probe includes an antenna that allows it to communicate with an Iridium satellite. As the probe descends into the atmosphere and slows to the speed of sound, the data are collected and stored, then transmitted to the Iridium satellite above, which in turn transmits the data to researchers on the ground.”

Once the flight test’s data are collected, TVA’s probe is allowed to fall into the ocean and is not recovered; however, these tiny spacecraft will contribute in a very big way to ensure the predictive models developed based on testing in ground facilities are valid and applicable in space.

“There are known and unknown risks, but both NASA and TVA are motivated to be successful as the benefits also translate to the larger community that wants to have on-demand access to space,” says Venkatapathy. “This technology has the potential to lower the cost of access to space for small payloads while making it attractive for universities and the non-aerospace community who may be novices to flight testing—a challenge in and of itself and not risk free.”

Because there is no backup for a spacecraft’s TPS, it is critical to understand and develop prediction capabilities that allow safe, robust entry system design. A successful flight test at this scale will increase confidence in the conformal ablator and allow mission planners to consider C-PICA and C-SIRCA for use in future programs such as New Frontiers or Orion.

For more information about NASA’s Game Changing Development program, visit:

 
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NASA to Begin Testing Next Generation of Spacecraft Heat Exchangers

by Staff Writers Washington DC (SPX) Jul 21, 2016

NASA's deep space Orion spacecraft requires tight control of thermal temperatures to protect crew and equipment.

NASA’s deep space Orion spacecraft requires tight control of thermal temperatures to protect crew and equipment.

Crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are receiving a unique hardware delivery today that can help shape NASA’s human journey beyond Earth and into deep space.

The Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX) Demonstration Facility hitched a ride to the space station on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft, which launched July 18 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Dragon arrived at station in the early hours of July 20, and crew will soon begin unloading the spacecraft of the nearly 5,000 pounds of science, research and hardware for the orbiting laboratory.

This hardware is one of NASA’s Game Changing Development program’s efforts that will advance space technologies and may lead to entirely new approaches for the agency’s future missions and solutions to significant national needs. Even more novel is that this high-tech gear is stuffed with wax that has a crayon-like texture.

Thermal challenge The use of wax dates as far back as 221-206 B.C., but it may not come to mind as ideal for 21st century space travel, but that’s the case, explains Rubik Sheth, project manager and systems engineer in the Thermal Systems Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

One future destination for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is supporting a crew in cislunar space. “It gets really hot when the spacecraft is between the sun and the moon,” Sheth says, so sending humans to deep space around the moon is a thermal challenge. “We need these phase change material heat exchangers to absorb the excess waste energy that Orion will take in,” he explains.

Sheth notes that heat exchangers freeze or thaw a material to sustain critical temperatures inside a spacecraft, thus protecting crew members and equipment.

That material of choice to be showcased on the phase change material heat exchanger aboard the ISS is N-pentadecane. “It’s pretty much like crayon wax in its consistency and the way it feels,” Sheth says.

How it works
The phase changer material heat exchanger – PCM HX for short – stores energy by thawing a phase change material, in this case wax, using hot coolant. That energy is later rejected by the spacecraft’s radiator, then refreezes the wax and prepares it for the next spike of heat load. This new type of heat exchanger could help offset heat experienced by Orion and better regulate temperatures, says Sheth.

“That’s why we’re flying it to the space station to see how it works in microgravity, and then take the next step in implementing the concept.” Wax and wane of idea Using wax in a PCM HX was tried out in trial and error fashion on NASA’s Skylab experimental space station that housed crews in 1973-1974. Similarly, wax was utilized earlier as a passive means of cooling instrumentation on lunar rovers used in the Apollo moon-landing project. However, results were inconsistent, Sheth points out.

“We took a total re-look,” Sheth says. Working with United Technologies Aerospace Systems of Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the wax-based PCM HX was built for flight demonstration. The test facility for ISS uses a thermal control system with built-in heaters and thermoelectric devices that aids in the freezing and thawing cycles of the PCM HX.

A removable kitchen drawer-like section of the PCM HX facility is loaded with about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of wax. “The wax itself can hold 200 kilojoules of energy per kilogram. So for every kilogram of wax I can stuff 200 kilojoules of energy in there.” Sheth says.

That is the equivalent of about eight hours of energy to light a compact fluorescent light bulb.

A PCM HX using wax, as contrasted to using gallons and gallons of water, equates to a potential mass savings for Orion spacecraft builders.

Back on Earth
Aboard the ISS, the equipment can operate day and night. But it’s a power-hungry unit when working to lower temperatures down to between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. That means having to share power with other station payloads; choreography is needed to distribute electricity between experiments.

“We want to run through December of this year,” Sheth says.

By year’s end, the wax is to be removed from the facility and then returned to Earth. The actual demonstration facility will remain onboard the ISS, ready for other experiments that require coolant temperatures below -10 degrees Celsius, Sheth points out.

Once back in NASA hands, the wax will be visually inspected for any deformities and then cut it in half. “We want to see how the wax maintained the internal geometry of the heat exchanger unit itself,” Sheth says. That appraisal could make a future wax-based PCM HX even more efficient.

Sheth says the goal is to give the Orion spacecraft team a report for Orion’s Exploration Mission 2, or EM-2, subsystem critical design review process for the phase change material to be chosen for EM-2, slated to be the first crewed mission on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.

The ISS PCM HX Demonstration Facility endeavor took some two years of time to develop.

“It has been rewarding in so many ways,” Sheth says. “From engineering the facility, getting it approved for the ISS, and sending the hardware up to station on Dragon, it is incredible what we have accomplished.”

 
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*Source: Space Daily

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Ancient Art of Weaving Ready to Head to Mars and Beyond

Steve Jurczyk, NASA Associate Administrator for Space TechnologyEugene Tu, Director, NASA Ames Research CenterTBD Lockheed Martin Ray Harries, President, BRMMark Harries, BRMLeon Bryn, BRM TBD Congressional Members and staffBally Ribbon Mills invented and established new weaving capability to support NASA’s need to enable robotic science missions to Venus and Saturn. The new loom that is about to start weaveing 2.1” thick, 3-D, dual layer weave at 24” width is one of a kind, unique capability. Credits: NASA

Ethiraj Venkatapathy, project manager and chief technologist for the Entry Systems and Technologies Division at Ames, holds a compression pad made from 3-D woven material that will be used on the Orion spacecraft as a thermal protection system and shock absorber. Credits: NASA/David Bowman

Weaving processes created millennia ago are part of the most cutting-edge technology on NASA’s Orion spaceship that may one day shield humans from heat as they ride all the way to Mars and back.

That same technology is finding a home on Earth as well, enabling thicker, denser composite materials for race cars, among other applications.

It started with a connection problem: there are points across Orion’s heat shield surface that must link the crew capsule to its service module and, ultimately, the rocket. “At these points, you have to use a very strong, robust material,” explains materials engineer Jay Feldman, technical lead for the 3-D Multifunctional Ablative Thermal Protection System (3D-MAT) at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

But great insulators are often not particularly strong.

Luckily, Feldman and other engineers at Ames were already working with partners at weaving company Bally Ribbon Mills on next-generation heat-shielding material. Together, they were developing a three-dimensional quartz-fiber composite, woven using classic shuttle looms upgraded for the modern era.

NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Bally Ribbon Mills representatives tour the Bally Ribbon Mills facility in Pennsylvania. Credits: NASA/David Bowman

NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Bally Ribbon Mills representatives tour the Bally Ribbon Mills facility in Pennsylvania.
Credits: NASA/David Bowman

Three-dimensional woven composites offered big advantages over layered 2-D woven composites used in previous spacecraft. “When you have fibers going in all three directions, it’s very, very strong,” explains Feldman. “And we can also tailor the composition so it has relatively low thermal conductivity.”

An Old Art
Bally Ribbon Mills, in Bally, Pennsylvania was a natural partner for the project. A leading U.S. manufacturer of two and three-dimensional textiles, the company’s client list includes the U.S. Air Force, Formula One racing teams and biomedical companies.

The firm’s expertise extends back to 1923, when the family-owned company started out weaving silk hat bands. Three generations later the company had evolved into a high-tech custom engineering firm, explains Mark Harries, part of the fourth generation of his family to run the textile company.

“That’s when we really found our niche,” Harries says.

NASA Associate Administrator Stephen Jurczyk explains ADEPT to a member of the local media.

NASA Associate Administrator Stephen Jurczyk explains ADEPT to a member of the local media.
Credits: NASA/David Bowman

The NASA partnership, and the resulting material, have generated a lot of excitement at the space agency, prompting a January 2015 visit to the mill by then-NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who declared: “From this day on, the path to Mars goes through Bally, Pennsylvania.”

For Orion, the threads are made of quartz, which is an excellent insulator and also capable of transmitting electrical signals.

Bally Ribbon Mills had to design new equipment to meet NASA’s needs: a thicker textile and, to improve compression strength, the same number of fibers going in all three directions.

The final product “is like a brick,” says senior textile engineer Curt Wilkinson.

Elegant Design
But the design is truly elegant, says Ethiraj Venkatapathy, project manager and chief technologist for the Entry Systems and Technologies Division at Ames. “The material can be a structure, it can be a thermal protection system, it can be a shock absorber, and it can carry loads,” he says, a contrast to designs that tend to focus on just one discipline.

Already the designers of Orion are looking at other spots where the 3D-MAT material may be incorporated. And outside NASA, government agencies and aerospace companies have expressed interest.

The work for NASA has also increased the product line the company offers in more frequently used materials, like carbon fiber, to its long-standing clients, including Formula One car manufacturers.

“It increases the size of the parts they can make,” Wilkinson says, which “gives them more opportunities for different locations in the car.”

Yet underneath the high-tech add-ons, the core of the process is the same type of shuttle looms the company used for silk in the 1920s. It’s an evolution that has kept nearly 300 jobs in central Pennsylvania, where most of the other textile mills have long gone out of business.

“We incorporate modern electronic components, and we also build and incorporate our own take-up systems, but the loom itself is extremely old,” Wilkinson says. “Using the same age-old steps of weaving, we’re now weaving material that’s going to go to Mars.”

Bally Ribbon Mills’ latest work with NASA is on the heatshield for extreme entry environment technology (HEEET) project for the agency’s Game Changing Development program. The HEEET project aims to develop the technology the agency needs for a heatshield to protect science payloads upon entry into Saturn or Venus that encounter extreme conditions. Bally took 18 months to design, develop and assemble the world’s most unique loom for weaving materials for the HEEET project. There is no other loom in the world that can weave 3-D, multi-layer materials to meet specifications for a heatshield that can withstand heating conditions much more extreme than those encountered by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover mission in 2012.

NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. Each year, the agency’s Spinoff publication profiles about 50 NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the wider benefits of America’s investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

To learn more about this NASA spinoff, read the original article from Spinoff 2017.

For more information on how NASA is bringing its technology down to Earth, visit:

http://technology.nasa.gov

Naomi Seck
Goddard Space Flight Center

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Tests Robotic Ice Tools

 

Want to go ice fishing on Jupiter’s moon Europa? There’s no promising you’ll catch anything, but a new set of robotic prototypes could help.

Since 2015, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been developing new technologies for use on future missions to ocean worlds. That includes a subsurface probe that could burrow through miles of ice, taking samples along the way; robotic arms that unfold to reach faraway objects; and a projectile launcher for even more distant samples.

All these technologies were developed as part of the Ocean Worlds Mobility and Sensing study, a research project funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. Each prototype focuses on obtaining samples from the surface — or below the surface — of an icy moon.

“In the future, we want to answer the question of whether there’s life on the moons of the outer planets — on Europa, Enceladus and Titan,” said Tom Cwik, who leads JPL’s Space Technology Program. “We’re working with NASA Headquarters to identify the specific systems we need to build now, so that in 10 or 15 years, they could be ready for a spacecraft.”

Those systems would face a variety of challenging environments. Temperatures can reach hundreds of degrees below freezing. Rover wheels might cross ice that behaves like sand. On Europa, surfaces are bathed in radiation.

“Robotic systems would face cryogenic temperatures and rugged terrain and have to meet strict planetary protection requirements,” said Hari Nayar, who leads the robotics group that oversaw the research. “One of the most exciting places we can go is deep into subsurface oceans — but doing so requires new technologies that don’t exist yet.”

A robotic claw, one of several innovative tools developed at JPL for exploring icy, ocean worlds like Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A robotic claw, one of several innovative tools developed at JPL for exploring icy, ocean worlds like Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

 
A hole in the ice

Brian Wilcox, an engineering fellow at JPL, designed a prototype inspired by so-called “melt probes” used here on Earth. Since the late 1960s, these probes have been used to melt through snow and ice to explore subsurface regions.

The problem is that they use heat inefficiently. Europa’s crust could be 6.2 miles deep or it could be 12.4 miles deep (10 to 20 kilometers); a probe that doesn’t manage its energy would cool down until it stopped frozen in the ice.

Wilcox innovated a different idea: a capsule insulated by a vacuum, the same way a thermos bottle is insulated. Instead of radiating heat outwards, it would retain energy from a chunk of heat-source plutonium as the probe sinks into the ice.

A rotating sawblade on the bottom of the probe would slowly turn and cut through the ice. As it does so, it would throw ice chips back into the probe’s body, where they would be melted by the plutonium and pumped out behind it.

Removing the ice chips would ensure the probe drills steadily through the ice without blockages. The ice water could also be sampled and sent through a spool of aluminum tubing to a lander on the surface. Once there, the water samples could be checked for biosignatures.

“We think there are glacier-like ice flows deep within Europa’s frozen crust,” Wilcox said. “Those flows churn up material from the ocean down below. As this probe tunnels into the crust, it could be sampling waters that may contain biosignatures, if any exist.”

To ensure no Earth microbes hitched a ride, the probe would heat itself to over 900 degrees Fahrenheit (482 degrees Celsius) during its cruise on a spacecraft. That would kill any residual organisms and decompose complex organic molecules that could affect science results.

 
A longer reach

Researchers also looked at the use of robotic arms, which are essential for reaching samples from landers or rovers. On Mars, NASA’s landers have never extended beyond 6.5 to 8 feet (2 to 2.5 meters) from their base. For a longer reach, you need to build a longer arm.

A folding boom arm was one idea that bubbled up at JPL. Unfolded, the arm can extend almost 33 feet (10 meters). Scientists don’t know which samples will be enticing once a lander touches down, so a longer reach could give them more options.

For targets that are even farther away, a projectile launcher was developed that can fire a sampling mechanism up 164 feet (50 meters).

Both the arm and the launcher could be used in conjunction with an ice-gripping claw. This claw could someday have a coring drill attached to it; if scientists want pristine samples, they’ll need to bore through up to eight inches (about 20 centimeters) of Europa’s surface ice, which is thought to shield complex molecules from Jupiter’s radiation.

After deployment from a boom arm or a projectile launcher, the claw could anchor itself using heated prongs that melt into the ice and secure its grip. That ensures that a drill’s bit is able to penetrate and collect a sample.

 
Wheels for a cryo-rover

In July, NASA will mark a 20-year legacy of rovers driving across Martian desert, harkening back to the July 4, 1997 landing of Mars Pathfinder, with its Sojourner rover.

But building a rover for an icy moon would require a rethink.

Places like Saturn’s moon Enceladus have fissures that blow out jets of gas and icy material from below the surface. They’d be prime science targets, but the material around them is likely to be different than ice on Earth.

Instead, tests have found that granular ice in cryogenic and vacuum conditions behaves more like sand dunes, with loose grains that wheels can sink into. JPL researchers turned to designs first proposed for crawling across the moon’s surface. They tested lightweight commercial wheels fixed to a rocker bogey suspension system that has been used on a number of JPL-led missions.

 
The next steps

Each of these prototypes and the experiments conducted with them were just starting points. With the ocean worlds study complete, researchers will now consider whether these inventions can be further refined. A second phase of development is being considered by NASA. Those efforts could eventually produce the technologies that might fly on future missions to the outer solar system.

This research was funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development Program, which investigates ideas and approaches that could solve significant technological problems and revolutionize future space endeavors.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information on Ocean Worlds Europa Technologies, visit:

https://gameon.nasa.gov/projects-2/ocean-worlds-europa-technologies/

 
 
News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

 
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*Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA Selects High Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC) Processor Contractor

Space Technology NASA Banner

NASA has selected Boeing Company in St. Louis for the High Performance Spaceflight Computing Processor (Chiplet) contract for the development of prototype Chiplet devices including packaged parts and bare die, a Chiplet behavioral model, Chiplet Evaluation Boards and System Software.

This is a cost-plus fixed-fee contract with a total contract value of $26.6 million which includes five options to enhance the capability of the Chiplet, increasing its processing performance, providing additional interfaces and improving the robustness of the Chiplet packaging. The period of performance is from March 27, 2017 through Dec 23, 2020.

Boeing will provide prototype radiation hardened multi-core computing processor Chiplets, system software which will operate on them, and evaluation boards to allow Chiplet test and characterization. The Chiplets each contain eight general purpose processing cores in a dual quad-core configuration, along with interfaces to memory and peripheral devices, and will have the flexibility to tailor performance, power consumption, and fault tolerance to meet widely varying mission needs.

The system software infrastructure for the HPSC Chiplet will support both real-time operating systems and Unix/Linux based parallel processing. This infrastructure will also support hierarchical fault tolerance, ranging from single Chiplet deep space robotic missions to multi-Chiplet highly redundant human spaceflight missions.

The Chiplet will provide game-changing improvements in computing performance, power efficiency, and flexibility, which will significantly improve the onboard processing capabilities of future NASA and U.S. Air Force space missions. Candidate applications that can benefit from the Chiplet range from onboard autonomy and astronaut assistance, to high bandwidth sensor data processing.

The HPSC Chiplet development is funded by the Game Changing Development program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The overall HPSC project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with the Chiplet acquisition managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center. Additionally, the Air Force Research Lab, Space Vehicles, has closely collaborated on this project to ensure that the Chiplet will be relevant to their mission requirements.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov

Cynthia M. O’Carroll
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-4787
cynthia.m.ocarroll@nasa.gov

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Developing PUFFER As Small Companion To Main Mars Rover

PUFFER
 

The International Business Times (3/21) reports on NASA’s development of the PUFFER (Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot), which the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is designing as a smaller companion for a standard Mars rover. NASA explained that PUFFER could “explore areas that might be too risky for a full-fledged rover to go, such as steep slopes or behind sand dunes.” SPACE (3/21) reports that the JPL team’s next planned steps for the project “include incorporating scientific instruments, such as gear that can identify carbon-containing organic molecules, and giving the robot more autonomy.”

For more information, visit the PUFFER Project: https://gameon.nasa.gov/projects/puffer/

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Origami-inspired Robot Can Hitch a Ride with a Rover

PUFFER

 

PUFFER crawls under a ledge during field testing. The advantage of its small size and foldable body is that the bot can wedge itself into small spaces. That could be useful on the rugged terrain of other planets. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PUFFER crawls under a ledge during field testing. The advantage of its small size and foldable body is that the bot can wedge itself into small spaces. That could be useful on the rugged terrain of other planets. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next rovers to explore another planet might bring along a scout.

The Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was inspired by origami. Its lightweight design is capable of flattening itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit.

Over the past year and a half, PUFFER has been tested in a range of rugged terrains, from the Mojave Desert in California to the snowy hills of Antarctica. The idea is to explore areas that might be too risky for a full-fledged rover to go, such as steep slopes or behind sand dunes.

It’s designed to skitter up 45-degree slopes, investigate overhangs and even drop into pits or craters. PUFFER is meant to be the hardy assistant to a larger robot companion: several of the microbots can be flattened like cards and stacked one on top of the other.

Then, they can be flicked out, popped up and begin exploring.

PUFFER was outfitted for field testing in snow during a recent trip to Antarctica's Mt. Erebus. <span class="credits">Credits: Dylan Taylor</span>

PUFFER was outfitted for field testing in snow during a recent trip to Antarctica’s Mt. Erebus.
Credits: Dylan Taylor

“They can do parallel science with a rover, so you can increase the amount you’re doing in a day,” said Jaakko Karras, PUFFER’s project manager at JPL. “We can see these being used in hard-to-reach locations — squeezing under ledges, for example.”

PUFFER’s creators at JPL hope to see the bot rolling across the sands of Mars someday. But they imagine it could be used by scientists right here on Earth, as well.

Carolyn Parcheta, a JPL scientist who uses robots to explore volcanoes, offered guidance on PUFFER’s science instruments. She said the use of backpack-ready bots has enormous potential for fields like geology.

“Having something that’s as portable as a compass or a rock hammer means you can do science on the fly,” she said.

A paper prototype

PUFFER’s body was originated by Karras, who was experimenting with origami designs. While he was a grad student at UC Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystem Lab, he worked on developing robotics based on natural forms, like animal and insect movement.

The PUFFER team substituted paper with a printed circuit board — the same thing inside of your smartphone. That allowed them to incorporate more electronics, including control and rudimentary instruments.

“The circuit board includes both the electronics and the body, which allows it to be a lot more compact,” said Christine Fuller, a JPL mechanical engineer who worked on PUFFER’s structure and tested it for reliability. “There are no mounting fasteners or other parts to deal with. Everything is integrated to begin with.”

JPL’s Kalind Carpenter, who specializes in robotic mobility, made four wheels for the folding bot on a 3-D printer. Their first prototype was little more than rolling origami, but it quickly grew more complex.

The wheels evolved, going from four to two, and gaining treads that allow it to climb inclines. They can also be folded over the main body, allowing PUFFER to crawl. A tail was added for stabilization. Solar panels on PUFFER’s belly allow it to flip over and recharge in the sun.

The team partnered with the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, which developed a “skittering walk” that keeps the bot inching forward, one wheel at a time, without slipping. A company called Distant Focus Corporation, Champaign, Illinois, provided a high-resolution microimager sensitive enough to see objects that are just 10 microns in size — a fraction of a diameter of a human hair.

Before long, PUFFER was ready for a test drive.

From the Mojave to Mars

Once they had a functional prototype, the JPL team took PUFFER out for field testing. In Rainbow Basin, California, the bot clambered over sedimentary rock slopes and under overhangs.

That terrain serves as an analog to Martian landscapes. On Mars, overhangs could be sheltering organic molecules from harmful radiation. Darkly colored Martian slopes, which are of interest to scientists, are another potential target.

On a level dirt path, PUFFER can drive about 2,050 feet (625 meters) on one battery charge. That could fluctuate a bit depending on how much any onboard instruments are used.

Besides desert conditions, PUFFER has been outfitted for snow. Carpenter designed bigger wheels and a flat fishtail to help it traverse wintry terrain. So far, it’s been tested at a ski resort in Grand Junction, Colorado; Big Bear, California; and on Mt. Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica.

One of PUFFER’s more recent field tests wasn’t particularly challenging, but can still be counted as a success: the Consumer Electronics Show. On a convention center floor in Las Vegas, it drew crowds of delighted technology fans.

PUFFER grows up

The next step is making PUFFER a scientist. The JPL team is looking at adding a number of instruments that would allow it to sample water for organic material, or a spectrometer to study the chemical makeup of its environment.

It’s also getting bigger. Future designs might be as large as a breadbox, sacrificing its microbot size for added robustness.

Most exciting of all would be making PUFFER smarter. Right now, it runs off Bluetooth and can be controlled remotely. But Carpenter said they’d like to add autonomy, allowing a swarm of PUFFERs to conduct science as a mobile team.

“If Curiosity had a stack of PUFFERs on board, each of them could go to separate spots, and the rover would just go to the most interesting one,” Carpenter said.

The team is hopeful PUFFER could end up on a future planetary mission. It already includes many Mars-compatible materials in its construction, including heritage technology from the Viking, Pathfinder and Phoenix missions.

For example, PUFFER’s body is wrapped in Nomex, a strong textile used in the air bags that cushioned NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers when they touched down on Mars. Nomex is also used by firefighters to repel heat, meaning PUFFER could survive punishing high temperatures. A company called Pioneer Circuits, Santa Ana, California, helped integrate the Nomex into the folding circuit boards.

“Small robotic explorers like PUFFER could change the way we do science on Mars,” Karras said. “Like Sojourner before it, we think it’s an exciting advance in robotic design.”

The PUFFER project is a Game Changing Development (GCD) program. The project is managed by JPL. The GCD program investigates ideas and approaches that could solve significant technological problems and revolutionize future space endeavors. GCD is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

For more information about GCD, please visit:
http://gameon.nasa.gov

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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COBALT Flight Demonstrations Fuse Technologies to Gain Precision Landing Results

COBALT

Flight Opportunities Team

Team members from the NASA COBALT team and the Masten Xodiac team hold a pre-campaign TIM (Technical Interchange Meeting) to iron out remaining technical hurdles and operations logistics in preparation for the COBALT payload integration onto Xodiac for the open-loop flight testing. The image is taken in the Masten Xodiac hangar, and Xodiac is in the background. The COBALT payload sits atop Xodiac in the empty payload frame. Credits: NASA

Many regions in the solar system beckon for exploration, but they are considered unreachable due to technology gaps in current landing systems. The CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies (COBALT) project, conducted by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, could change that.

Through a flight campaign this month through April, COBALT will mature and demonstrate new guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) technologies to enable precision landing for future exploration missions.

“COBALT will allow us to reduce the risk in developing future landing systems and will benefit robotic landers to planetary surfaces by allowing for autonomous precision landing,” said LaNetra Tate, STMD’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program executive. “This will definitely become a game changing technology.”

The campaign will pair and test new landing sensor technologies that promise to yield the highest precision navigation solution ever tested for NASA space landing applications.

The technologies, a Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and the Lander Vision System (LVS), which provides terrain relative navigation, will be integrated and flight tested aboard a rocket-powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) platform. The platform, named Xodiac, was developed by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California.

Flight Opportunities Team

Team members from NASA Langley demonstrating the new Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) to NASA Headquarters personnel from AES and GCD. Credits: NASA

“In this first flight campaign, we plan to successfully complete the integration, flight testing and performance analysis of the COBALT payload,” explained John M. Carson III, COBALT project manager. “This is considered a passive test, where COBALT will be solely collecting data, while the Xodiac vehicle will rely on its GPS for active navigation.””

In a follow-up flight campaign in summer 2017, COBALT will become the active navigation system for Xodiac, and the vehicle will use GPS only as a safety monitor and backup.

“The knowledge from these flights will lead into the development of systems for deployment in future NASA landing missions to Mars and the moon,” said Carson.

So how does it work?

The technologies themselves are very different, but together they are a recipe for precision landing.

The NDL, developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC), is an evolution of a prototype flown by the former ALHAT (Autonomous precision Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology) project on the NASA Morpheus vehicle in 2014. The new NDL is 60 percent smaller, operates at nearly triple the speed and provides longer range measurements.

“NDL functionally is similar to the radar systems used in previous Mars landers, Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory,” explained Farzin Amzajerdian, NDL Chief Scientist at Langley. “The major difference is that the NDL uses a laser instead of a microwave as its transmitter. Operating at almost four orders of magnitude higher frequency makes the measurement a whole lot more accurate. NDL also is much smaller than radar systems, which is a big deal as every ounce counts when sending a lander to Mars or other destinations.”

LVS, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), is a camera-based navigation system that photographs the terrain beneath a descending spacecraft and matches it with onboard maps to determine vehicle location, explained Carl Seubert, the COBALT project lead at JPL.

“This allows the craft to detect its location relative to large landing hazards seen in the onboard maps, such as large boulders and terrain outcroppings,” Seubert said.

COBALT is one springboard for these technologies, which will find their way into future missions. The NDL design is geared toward infusion onto near-term lunar, Mars or other missions. The LVS was developed for infusion onto the Mars 2020 robotic lander mission, and has application to many other missions.

“Both NDL and LVS come from more than a decade of NASA research and development investments across multiple projects within robotic and human exploration programs, and from the hard work and dedication of personnel across the agency,” said Carson.

“These COBALT technologies give moon and Mars spacecraft the ability to land much more precisely, improving access to interesting sites in complex terrain and to any exploration assets previously deployed to the surface,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division. “Landings will also be more controlled and gentle, potentially allowing smaller landing legs and propellant reserves, and resulting in lower mission risk, mass and cost.”

The COBALT team is managed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, and comprises of engineers from JSC, JPL in Pasadena, California, and LaRC in Hampton, Virginia. All three centers will jointly conduct the flight campaign and post-flight data analysis.

“The progress and success of the COBALT project has relied on the team dynamic between NASA centers that started during the prior ALHAT project,” says Carson. “The team has a common goal to develop and deploy precision landing GN&C technologies, and they maintain constant communication and a focus on collaboration to iron out the technical challenges and operational constraints required to develop, interface and successfully test the sensors and payload.”

COBALT involves multiple NASA programs, including the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), and the Game Changing Development and Flight Opportunities programs, both under STMD.

Based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, the Flight Opportunities program funds technology development flight tests on commercial suborbital space providers of which Masten is a vendor. The program has previously tested the LVS on the Masten rocket and validated the technology for the Mars 2020 rover.

The COBALT flights will demonstrate blended LVS and NDL measurement viability for the precise, controlled soft landing of future missions. While the sensors are key enablers for future human and robotic landing missions to Mars, the moon and other solar system destinations, the COBALT payload also will provide a reusable platform for integration and testing of other precision landing and hazard avoidance capabilities developed within NASA or industry.

For more information about the COBALT project, visit:

 
For more information about the Flight Opportunities program, visit:

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Tulane students beat out 28 schools in NASA BIG Idea Challenge

Six Tulane students designed a prototype of the spacecraft that one day could bring essentials to the next astronaut to set foot on the moon.

Five of the students will serve as interns after winning NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing Idea challenge as their prize.

Participating teams created plans for an in-space assembled propulsion spacecraft meant to carry loads to the moon. The designs had to be solar-electric, meaning they needed to be powered by the sun.

Tulane competed against 28 other schools last November before making it to the finals, where they faced off against four other teams at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

While many of the other teams participating in the BIG Idea Challenge consisted of aerospace engineering students, Tulane’s team was comprised of students from other fields of engineering, plus those from physics, economics and architecture. With no experience in space design or software, the Tulane students approached their design in an innovative way.

“We decided that if we were going to compete against some aerospace engineers, we can’t beat them. We can’t find a better design than some people that have been studying this for their whole lives,” junior Ethan Gasta said. “So we decided to go a whole completely new route.”

The team members’ diversity of background and expertise allowed them to create and submit a completely original design.

“I think the fact that we did not approach the problem from a traditional aerospace background actually helped us innovate and propose some truly new ideas,” junior Max Woody said.

The layout of Tulane’s spacecraft included individualized pieces holding their own fuel, solar panels and propulsion sources that form together in space to make the larger spacecraft, which they called “The Sunflower.”
“It consisted of a repeated hexagonal pattern of solar arrays, which allowed the structure to be folded, manipulated and upgraded in a variety of ways,” Woody said.

Members credit the uniqueness of the design as the factor which set the team apart, ultimately winning them the competition and internships. Most of the other teams created four fairly similar designs that followed existing designs of others in the aerospace engineering field.

“… More than anything [the design] set us apart,” Robertson said. “We didn’t just have modification of an already thought-of spacecraft. We had a totally new concept.”

The win granted the students five internship posts at NASA facilities in either Langley or the Bay Area. This internship will provide these students with the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge as part of the leading organization in space and technological exploration.

“I am thrilled to have been able to work with such talented, smart individuals and [to] represent Tulane University,” junior Matthew Gorban said. “This is an experience that I will cherish and one that will hopefully allow me to get my foot in the door of the aerospace engineering field.”

 
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*Source: TulaneHullabaloo.com

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NASA Parachute Device Could Return Small Spacecraft from Deep Space Missions

 
After a two-month stay aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Technology Educational Satellite (TechEdSat-5) that launched Dec. 9, 2016, was deployed on March 6, 2017 from the NanoRacks platform and into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a critical technology that may allow safe return of science payloads to Earth from space.

Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth, the Exo-Brake, a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-shaped parachute, opens from the rear of the small satellite to increase the drag. This de-orbit device tests a hybrid system of mechanical struts and flexible cord with a control system that warps the Exo-Brake. This allows engineers to guide the spacecraft to a desired entry point without the use of fuel, enabling accurate landing for future payload return missions.

Two additional technologies will be demonstrated on TechEdSat-5. These include the ‘Cricket’ Wireless Sensor Module, which provides a unique wireless network for multiple wireless sensors, providing real time data for TechEdSat-5.

The project team seeks to develop building blocks for larger scale systems that might enable future small or nanosatellite missions to reach the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies in the solar system.

For more information on NASA’s small spacecraft technology missions, visit:

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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CU Boulder students show NASA their vision of future space transport

Concept of operations for the University of Colorado team’s entry into the NASA -sponsored Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing Idea challenge that took place Wednesday in Hampton, Va. (Courtesy image).

Four University of Colorado juniors are back from NASA’s Langley Research Center, where they competed Wednesday as finalists in that agency’s BIG Idea Challenge.

The competition tasked students with advancing concepts for in-space assembly of spacecraft, particularly tugs, powered by solar propulsion.

NASA’s challenge to competing students was that their design enable the transfer of payloads from low-Earth orbit to an orbit around the moon, or to a lunar distant retrograde orbit.

CU’s group, whose project was dubbed “Odysseus,” was one of five selected as finalists who made their pitch for an in-orbit assembly design of a spacecraft that can deliver cargo from low-Earth to lunar and Martian orbits.

The competition, which was held Wednesday, was won by a team from Tulane University.

But the CU team, comprised of juniors Justin Norman, Olivia Zanoni, Gerardo Pulido and Gabriel Walker, nevertheless distinguished itself, according to Brian Sanders, deputy director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, who accompanied them to Hampton, Va., returning to Colorado late Thursday night.

“I’m incredibly proud of what the students did, both in terms of paper and presentation, and the feedback we got after the competition from the judges was amazing,” said Sanders.

“These students put in hundreds of hours with great simulations, doing great trade studies, to formulate a mission concept that was highly recognized by the judges as being really unique and practical yet cutting edge.”

 
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*Source: DailyCamera.com

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Tulane University Team Receives Top Honors in NASA’s ‘BIG Idea’ Engineering Design Competition

Six students from Tulane University took first place in NASA’s second annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge for in-space assembly of spacecraft at the BIG Idea Forum hosted by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Members of the winning team from Tulane University are shown holding a model of their winning design. Top row from left to right are: Professor Timothy Schuler, Otto Lyon and Matthew Gorban. On the bottom row are Afshee Sajjadi, Ethan Gasta, John Roberson and Maxwell Woody
Credits: Photo Credit is NASA/Harlen Capen

The engineering design competition engages the university community in driving innovation and developing unique solutions to NASA technology focus areas. This year, university teams were asked to come up with concepts for constructing a solar electric propulsion (SEP)-powered space tug using autonomous robotic assembly. The tug would need to transfer payloads from low-Earth orbit to a lunar orbit.

“The Tulane University team provided an unanticipated design solution for large SEP orbit transfer vehicles,” said Keith Belvin, BIG Idea judge and principal technologist for structures, materials and nanotechnology for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “They exceeded our goals for novel SEP vehicles constructed using autonomous robotic assembly.”

Tulane emerged as the winner after NASA judges selected five teams to compete, where they presented more fully developed concepts in an intense design review. The Tulane team, led by Professor Timothy Schuler, was awarded first place for their design concept, “The Sunflower – A Modular and Hexagonally Symmetric SEP Cargo Transport Spacecraft.” Tulane’s concept utilizes hexagonal modules with distributed power and propulsion and a hybrid deployment/assembly approach to create SEP vehicles scalable from 200kW to 500kW.

Just like tug boats are tasked with moving boats from one point to another in the water, these vehicles will serve as “space tugs,” moving modules from one location to another in the vacuum of space. The plan is for the tugs to use robots for self-assembly and then transfer cargo to staging points in support of deep space exploration.

A team from the University of Maryland was named first runner-up. Under the guidance of advisor professor Dave Akin, the team developed a concept called the “200kW/500kW Solar-electric Modular Flexible Kinetic Escort” or SMo-FLaKE.

The winning team and first runner-up will be offered coveted NASA internships with the Game Changing Development Program team at NASA for the summer of 2017. During the internship, they will work closely with NASA engineers to advance portions of their solar electric propulsion concepts that have the potential to provide high-impact capabilities in crewed space missions.

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by the Game Changing Development Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

For a complete list of teams and more information about the BIG Idea competition, visit:

For more information about the Game Changing Development program, please visit:

 
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Two UMD Teams NASA BIG Idea Challenge Finalists

2017 BIG Idea Competition

Two University of Maryland (UMD) aerospace engineering student teams have been selected as finalists in NASA’s 2017 BIG Ideas Challenge. Out of 29 submissions, UMD’s “SMo-FLaKE” and “Terrapin SEP Space Tug,” rounded out the five selected teams representing six universities that will go on to compete at NASA Langley February 15-16, 2017.

According to the competition’s website, “The Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea challenge is an initiative supporting NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD) efforts to rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions. This year’s GCD-sponsored engineering design competition seeks innovative ideas from the academic community for in-space assembly of spacecraft – particularly tugs, propelled by solar electric propulsion (SEP), that transfer payloads for low earth orbit (LEO) to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (LDRO). Reuse of the SEP tug provides a cost-efficient method of transferring payloads between LEO-to-LDRO, LDRO-to-LEO, and for transit to deep-space locations such as Mars.”

About the UMD Teams:

Terrapin SEP Space Tug (TSST)
A Reusable Modular Solar Electric Propulsion Space Tug (SEP) to Transfer Payloads from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Lunar Distant Retrograde Orbit (LDRO)
Faculty Advisors: David Akin and Andrew Becnel
Team Members: Angel Benedicto, Erich Robinson-Tillenburg, Victor Meszaros, Nacho Viciano Semper and Jerry Zhang

All members of the TSST team are graduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering’s graduate course ENAE 788D, Advanced Principles of Space Systems Design.

SMo-FLaKE
Faculty Advisors: David Akin and Andrew Becnel
Team Members: Leandre Jones, Shaheer Khan, Hermann Kaptui, Ryan Ernandis and Rounak Mukhopadhyay

All students on the SMo-FLaKE team are seniors in the Department of Aerospace Engineering’s ENAE 483, Principles of Space Systems Design course.

“These teams brought forth innovative approaches and impressive technical analysis for the design of modular solar electric propulsion orbit-transfer vehicles,” added Keith Belvin, principal technologist for structures, materials and nanotechnology in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and a judge for the challenge in a NASA press release. “NASA plans to work with the students and their faculty advisors in development of their concepts to support space exploration beyond low Earth orbit.”

To reach this point, the UMD teams each had to submit a 10-page paper with design details of a 200 kW modular space-assembled tug vehicle using solar-electric propulsion, along with a two-minute video.

During February’s event, held at NASA’s Langley Research Center, the teams will present their final concepts to a panel of NASA experts and compete with fellow students from the University of Colorado, Tulane University, Georgia Tech, University of Texas (Austin) and New York University.

Members of the winning team may have the opportunity to receive summer 2017 internships at NASA Langley in Hampton, Va.

For more information about the 2017 Big Idea Challenge, please visit: http://bigidea.nianet.org/

 
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*Source: ISR.UMD.edu

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Student team set to take ‘game-changing’ solution to NASA competition

Colorado Space Grant Consortium undergraduates heading for NASA this week to present a new spacecraft design for moving cargo from Earth orbit to the moon and Mars are, from left to right, Olivia Zanoni, Gerardo Pulido, Gabriel Walker and Justin Norman. Photo by Casey A. Cass, University of Colorado.

Four CU Boulder juniors, all from Colorado, are headed to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, Feb. 14 to propose a new in-orbit assembly design of a spacecraft that can deliver cargo from low-Earth orbit to lunar and Martian orbits.

The student team, made up of Justin Norman, Olivia Zanoni, Gabriel Walker and Gerardo Pulido, is one of five national finalists for NASA’s annual BIG Idea Challenge. The NASA and National Institute of Aerospace contest allows college students from around the nation to come up with innovative design concepts related to future hurdles the aerospace industry will be facing, including manned missions to Mars.

The challenge this year was to propose a design for a solar-electric propulsion spacecraft known as a “space tug” capable of delivering cargo to the moon and the Red Planet. In November 2016, the team submitted the first iteration of the design and was selected as a finalist to continue with the development of the proposed spacecraft.

“We designed the spacecraft expecting to make it happen one day, taking extra steps to make sure the original mission requirements were met with game-changing solutions,” says team member Norman, a junior who grew up in Boulder. “We are confident NASA will accept our design proposal and enable us to work on the implementation of this mission starting this summer.”

Norman, Walker and Pulido are in the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, and Zanoni is in the Engineering Physics program associated with the Department of Physics. All four are members of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC), which provides students, primarily undergraduates, with hands-on experience in designing, building and flying spacecraft.

 
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*Source: Colorado.edu

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NASA Announces Awards to Develop Oxygen Recovery Technologies for Future Deep Space Missions

STMD Oxygen Recovery

NASA has selected two proposals for the development of oxygen recovery technologies that could help astronauts breathe a little easier on deep space, long-duration missions. The agency will invest as much as $2 million and 24 months for the development of each proposal into a complete and integrated system for NASA testing.

“The development of advanced life support technologies will allow NASA to establish improved capabilities for future deep space, long-duration, human exploration missions,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “The selected proposals represent the best value to the agency and strong investments for STMD.”

The selected proposals are:

Phase II Methane Pyrolysis System for High-Yield Soot-Free Recovery of Oxygen from Carbon Dioxide – Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix
Continuous Bosch Reactor – UMPQUA Research Co. in Myrtle Creek, Oregon
The state-of-the-art system currently used on the International Space Station recovers about 50 percent of the oxygen from exhaled carbon dioxide. The remaining oxygen required for crew respiration is transported to the station from Earth. For long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit, resupply of oxygen becomes economically and logistically prohibitive. To mitigate these challenges, NASA’s Next Generation Life Support Spacecraft Oxygen Recovery project element is targeting development of technology to increase the recovery of oxygen to 75 percent or more, thereby reducing the total oxygen resupply required for future missions.

These awards are managed by the Game Changing Development (GCD) program within STMD. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the GCD program. The GCD program is funded by STMD, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:

For more information about the Game Changing Development program, visit:

-end-

Gina Anderson
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1160
gina.n.anderson@nasa.gov

Joe Atkinson
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
757-755-5375
joseph.s.atkinson@nasa.gov

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA’s Exo-Brake ‘Parachute’ to Enable Safe Return for Small Spacecraft

sstp_t5p5_with_iss2

Engineers pack the Technical Education Satellite (TechEdSat-5) with the Exo-Brake payload. At almost 4 square feet in cross section (0.35 square meters), the Exo-Brake is made of Mylar and is controlled by a hybrid system of mechanic struts and flexible cord. Credits: NASA Ames/Dominic Hart

Engineers pack the Technical Education Satellite (TechEdSat-5) with the Exo-Brake payload. At almost 4 square feet in cross section (0.35 square meters), the Exo-Brake is made of Mylar and is controlled by a hybrid system of mechanic struts and flexible cord.
Credits: NASA Ames/Dominic Hart

NASA’s “Exo-Brake” will demonstrate a critical technology leading to the potential return of science payloads to Earth from the International Space Station through the deployment of small spacecraft in early 2017.

An Exo-Brake is a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-parachute that deploys from the rear of a satellite to increase the drag. It is a de-orbit device that replaces the more complicated rocket-based systems that would normally be employed during the de-orbit phase of re-entry.

“The Exo-Brake’s current design uses a hybrid system of mechanical struts and flexible cord with a control system that ‘warps’ the Exo-Brake – much like how the Wright brothers used warping to control the flight behavior of their first wing design,” said Marcus Murbach, principal investigator and inventor of the Exobrake device.

This warping, combined with real-time simulations of the orbital trajectory, allows engineers to guide the spacecraft to a desired entry point without the use of fuel, enabling accurate landing for future payload return missions.

Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, have been testing the Exo-Brake technology as a simple design that promises to help bring small payloads back through Earth’s atmosphere unharmed. The technology demonstration mission is a part of the Technology Education (TechEdSat-5) nanosatellite that was launched Dec. 9 on Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The Exo-Brake will reside on the space station until its deployment in early 2017.

Since 2012, the Exo-Brake has been tested on balloons and sub-orbital rockets through the Sub-Orbital Aerodynamic Re-entry Experiments, or SOAREX, flight series. Earlier versions of the Exo-Brake and other critical systems also have been tested on orbital experiments on TechEdSat nano-satellite missions.

Two additional technologies will be demonstrated on TechEdSat-5. These include the ‘Cricket’ Wireless Sensor Module (WSM), which provides a unique wireless network for multiple wireless sensors, providing real time data for TechEdSat-5.

TechEdSat-5’s nanosatellite bus element will also utilize the PhoneSat-5 avionics board that uses, for the first time, the versatile Intel Edison microprocessor. The new board is designed to test TechEdSat-5’s unique Wi-Fi capabilities, high fidelity cameras, and contains Iridium L-band transceiver for data.

In addition to the goal of returning samples from the space station, the project seeks to develop “building blocks” for larger scale systems that might enable future small or nanosatellite missions to reach the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies in the solar system.

The Exo-Brake is funded by the Entry Systems Modeling project within the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development program. Additional funding for the Exo-Brake is provided by NASA Ames Research Center and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center. The TechEdSat series of nanosatellites is a STEM collaborative activity that involves NASA early-career employees, interns and students from several universities including San Jose State University, University of Idaho, University of California at Riverside, and California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo.

For more information on the Game Changing Development program, visit:


For more information on NASA’s small satellite missions, visit:

Kimberly Williams
Ames Research Center
650-604-2457
kimberly.k.williams@nasa.gov

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Metallic Glass Gears Make for Graceful Robots

Metallic Glass Gears

Metallic Glass Gears Make for Graceful Robots Space Gears Harmonic drive Bulk metallic glass, a metal alloy, doesn’t get brittle in extreme cold. That makes the material perfect for robotics operated in space or on icy planets.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Throw a baseball, and you might say it’s all in the wrist.

For robots, it’s all in the gears.

Gears are essential for precision robotics. They allow limbs to turn smoothly and stop on command; low-quality gears cause limbs to jerk or shake. If you’re designing a robot to scoop samples or grip a ledge, the kind of gears you’ll need won’t come from a hardware store.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, technologist Douglas Hofmann and his collaborators are building a better gear. Hofmann is the lead author of two recent papers on gears made from bulk metallic glass (BMG), a specially crafted alloy with properties that make it ideal for robotics.

“Although BMGs have been explored for a long time, understanding how to design and implement them into structural hardware has proven elusive,” said Hofmann. “Our team of researchers and engineers at JPL, in collaboration with groups at Caltech and UC San Diego, have finally put BMGs through the necessary testing to demonstrate their potential benefits for NASA spacecraft. These materials may be able to offer us solutions for mobility in harsh environments, like on Jupiter’s moon Europa.”

Recipe for the perfect gear

How can this mystery material be both a metal and a glass? The secret is in its atomic structure. Metals have an organized, crystalline arrangement. But if you heat them up into a liquid, they melt and the atoms become randomized. Cool them rapidly enough –about 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) per second — and you can trap their non-crystalline, “liquid” form in place.

This produces a random arrangement of atoms with an amorphous, or non-crystalline microstructure. That structure gives these materials their common names: “amorphous metals,” or metallic glass.

By virtue of being cooled so rapidly, the material is technically a glass. It can flow easily and be blow-molded when heated, just like windowpane glass. When this glassy material is produced in parts greater than about .04 inches (1 millimeter), it’s called “bulk” metallic glass, or BMG.

Metallic glasses were originally developed at Caltech in Pasadena, California, in 1960. Since then, they’ve been used to manufacture everything from cellphones to golf clubs.

What makes these gears perfect for space?

Among their attractive qualities, BMGs have low melting temperatures. That allows parts to be cast using injection-molding technology, similar to what’s used in the plastics industry, but with much higher strength and wear-resistance. BMGs also don’t get brittle in extreme cold, a factor which can lead to a gear’s teeth fracturing. This last quality makes the material particularly useful for the kinds of robotics done at JPL.

Hofmann said that gears made from BMGs can “run cold and dry”: initial testing has demonstrated strong torque and smooth turning without lubricant, even at -328 degrees Fahrenheit (-200 degrees Celsius). For robots sent to frozen landscapes, that can be a power-saving advantage. NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, for example, expends energy heating up grease lubricant every time it needs to move.

“Being able to operate gears at the low temperature of icy moons, like Europa, is a potential game changer for scientists,” said R. Peter Dillon, a technologist and program manager in JPL’s Materials Development and Manufacturing Technology Group. “Power no longer needs to be siphoned away from the science instruments for heating gearbox lubricant, which preserves precious battery power.”

Gears that turn smoothly while cutting costs

The second paper led by Hofmann looked at how BMGs could lower the cost of manufacturing strain wave gears. This type of gear, which includes a metal ring that flexes as the gear spins, is tricky to mass produce and ubiquitous in expensive robots.

Not only can BMGs allow these gears to perform at low temperatures, but they can also be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of their steel versions without sacrificing performance. This is potentially game changing for reducing the cost of robots that use strain wave gears, since they are often their most expensive part.

“Mass producing strain wave gears using BMGs may have a major impact on the consumer robotics market,” Hofmann said. “This is especially true for humanoid robots, where gears in the joints can be very expensive but are required to prevent shaking arms. The performance at low temperatures for JPL spacecraft and rovers seems to be a happy added benefit.”

The paper published by Advanced Engineering Materials looked at designing and testing BMG gears for planetary gearboxes. It included collaborators at Caltech and UC San Diego. The paper published in Scientific Reports examines how BMGs can be used to reduce the cost of strainwave gears. It also included Caltech collaborators.

The Bulk Metallic Glass Gears project is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development Program, which investigates ideas and approaches that could solve significant technological problems and revo¬lutionize future space endeavors.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Hofmann’s research, visit:

http://scienceandtechnology.jpl.nasa.gov/metallurgy-facility

 

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

2016-304

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Laser-based Navigation Sensor Could Be Standard for Planetary Landing Missions

Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA's Langley Research Center. Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA’s Langley Research Center.Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

A laser-guided navigation sensor that could help future rovers make safe, precise landings on Mars or destinations beyond will soon undergo testing in California’s Mojave Desert.

The Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, which was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will be flight tested aboard a rocket-powered Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) platform, named Xodiac, developed by Masten Space Systems, in Mojave, California.

Cobalt Device

NDL is about the size of a breadbox and contains three lasers, each about the size of a piece of corn on the cob. “This is an incredible piece of engineering,” says Farzin Amzajerdian, NDL PI. “It’s beautiful.”Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

The NDL will be a part of a NASA payload called COBALT, or CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies, which has been a joint technology development effort between multiple NASA centers, including Langley, the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“When we fly airplanes and helicopters or drive cars we use GPS to tell us where we are, which direction we are moving and how fast we are moving,” said Farzin Amzajerdian, principal investigator for NDL at Langley. “But when you go to Mars and the moon there’s no GPS, so you have to have something onboard.”

That’s where NDL comes in. The unit is comprised of a small electronics box connected by fiberoptic cables to three lenses that transmit three laser beams. Those beams reflect off the ground to help the sensor determine its speed, direction and altitude. NDL’s ultra-precise velocity and range measurements are critical for highly controlled, very soft landings.

NDL works as a standalone unit, but for the COBALT flight tests onboard Xodiac, the NDL will be coupled with a Lander Vision System, or LVS, developed by NASA JPL.

LVS will take pictures of the terrain and compare them with existing terrain maps in order to tell the lander where it is relative to its designated landing site. That type of technology is called Terrain Relative Navigation.

NDL’s diminutive size gives it a significant advantage over previous lander technologies. In fact, it looks petite compared to the radar that helped the Curiosity rover land on Mars. That radar was a four-foot-long plate with electronics sticking out of the top and large antennas jutting out from the bottom.

“All of that is being replaced by the NDL, which is about the size of a breadbox and contains three lasers, each about the size of a piece of corn on the cob,” said Amzajerdian. “Not only is it smaller, it’s more reliable. It has an order of magnitude better precision in its measurements. And it costs less.”

It will also weigh significantly less, “which is a huge deal,” said Amzajerdian.

Researchers had success with an earlier, larger version of the NDL in 2014 as part of NASA’s Morpheus Project, which developed and tested a prototype planetary lander capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Amzajerdian believes NDL has the potential to be a standard sensor for all landing missions.

“This is an incredible piece of engineering,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

Flight-testing of COBALT with NDL and LVS will involve team members from NASA JSC, Langley and JPL. The COBALT project was developed and is managed through NASA JSC, and the payload was designed and will be integrated by NASA JPL, which is also developing the navigation filter that fuses the NDL and LVS measurements. Through the Flight Opportunities program, the LVS has been tested on a Masten rocket-powered lander and validated for use on the Mars 2020 rover.

COBALT is a collaborative effort between NASA’s Game Changing Development and Flight Opportunities programs, which are part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Advanced Exploration Systems program, which is part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Joe Atkinson
NASA Langley Research Center

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Firefighters Could Be Using NASA-Designed Forest Fire Shelters in 2017

CHIEFS Material

Forest fires pose life-and-death situations for firefighters, but a partnership between NASA’s Langley Research Center and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service could provide safety when the heat is on.

The partnership, called CHIEFS or Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters, led to the development of a fire shelter made from heat-resistant materials NASA is exploring for future planetary missions.

The current shelter prototype is made of a woven quartz fabric bonded to an aluminum film. NASA said it is looking into more efficient high- and low-temperature insulators that will inhibit hot combustion gases from reaching firefighters.

A fire shelter is typically a last resort for firefighters battling forest fires. It resembles a small, foldable tent and is designed to protect firefighters from hot gas inhalation, as well as radiant and convective heat. Fire shelters are not intended for extended use. They’re generally only good for a minute and a half to three minutes, depending upon weather conditions, the terrain, and the types of burning trees or brush, but this offers enough time for an escape or a rescue.

The external aluminum coating reflects 90 percent of radiant heat from a forest fire. Meanwhile, the interior insulation protects the users from hot winds or direct contact with the fire.

The exterior temperature of the shelter in forest fire conditions can range between 1,472° and 2,400° Fahrenheit. The interior must stay below 300° Fahrenheit to keep the users safe.

There are two prototypes being developed by NASA. One is a light design that weighs about 4.3 pounds and more closely resembles current shelters used by fire departments. A heavier version is 6.9 pounds and offers more protection, but its size would necessitate vehicle transport.

The shelters are still in the development and testing phases, but forest firefighters could have them in their arsenals as soon as next year.

 
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*Source: PDDNet.com

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NASA Space Robotics Challenge Prepares Robots for the Journey to Mars

Valkyrie Robot

The Space Robotics Challenge offers a $1 million prize purse for teams that successfully program a virtual Robonaut 5 robot through a series of complex tasks in a simulated Mars habitat.
Credits: NASA

NASA, in partnership with Space Center Houston, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center, and NineSigma, a global innovation consultant organization, has opened registration for a new competition — the Space Robotics Challenge. This event seeks to develop the capabilities of humanoid robots to help astronauts on the journey to Mars.

The Space Robotics Challenge is a $1 million prize competition designed to push the boundaries of robotic dexterity. Teams must program a virtual robot, modeled after NASA’s Robonaut 5 (R5) robot, to complete a series of tasks in a simulation that includes periods of latency to represent communications delay from Earth to Mars.

Though some dexterity has been developed for Earth-based robotics systems using hydraulics, such robots cannot be used in space because of the below-freezing temperatures and the harsh environment of planetary surfaces. The R5 uses elastics technology instead of hydraulics – an innovative way of addressing the problems of operating in space. This technology could also benefit humankind on Earth, as they could operate under dangerous or extreme environments on our home planet.

“Precise and dexterous robotics, able to work with a communications delay, could be used in spaceflight and ground missions to Mars and elsewhere for hazardous and complicated tasks, which will be crucial to support our astronauts,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “NASA and our partners are confident the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”

The competition will be held in a virtual environment. Each team’s R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak.

Registration for the Space Robotics Challenge begins today, with a qualifying round running from mid-September to mid-November. Finalists of that round will be announced in December and will engage in open practice from January to early June 2017. The final virtual competition will be held in June 2017, and winners will be announced at the end of June at Space Center Houston.

Software developed through this challenge will be transferable across other robotics systems, allowing the technology produced to be used both with older robotics models, such as the Robonaut 2, and any future models developed.

With the technology generated by this challenge, robots could participate in precursor missions to selected landing sites, arriving long before astronauts to set up habitats, life support systems, communications and solar apparatuses, and even begin preliminary scientific research.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges program is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. STMD uses challenges to gather the best and brightest minds in academia, industry, government and the Nation to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology focus areas. Innovators from diverse backgrounds, within and outside of the aerospace industry, are invited to be contributors to our Journey to Mars.

Space Center Houston is a part of the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, a nonprofit science and space learning center.

NineSigma, based in Cleveland, Ohio, connects organizations with external innovation resources to accelerate innovation in private, public and social sectors.

For more information on the Space Robotics Challenge, visit:

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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A Camp Where ‘Junior Game Changers’ Get Their Game On

 

​Arduinos. Spheros. Microcontrollers.

All foreign sounding words to a group of rising ninth graders from Newport News who, before coming to NASA Langley last week, hadn’t had much interaction with robots or drones.

“What IS an Arduino?” asked student Evan Shephard.

That answer and many others came during the four-day camp, which offered 35 rising high school freshman an opportunity to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from NASA experts.

The Junior Game Changers Camp was the brainchild of Mary Beth Wusk, acting program manager for the Game Changing Development Program (GCD) and avid supporter of education and internships.

Wusk wanted to create a camp that reached the “at-risk” students, the ones who maybe just needed a little nudge in the right direction, a positive role model and encourage to get them to pursue a STEM-related field.

Wyatt Richards was one of 35 participants in the Junior Game Changers Camp. Credits: NASA/Scott Conklin

Wyatt Richards was one of 35 participants in the Junior Game Changers Camp. Credits: NASA/Scott Conklin

“We really wanted this camp to be innovative and different, and we wanted to reach students who might not easily get an opportunity to come to a NASA center,” said Wusk.

The rising ninth graders are also a part of the Newport News schools system’s STEMulating Minds summer program, a free offering for Heritage High School’s Governor’s STEM Academy.

The Academy is designed to raise students’ aspirations and expand their options, whether it is in STEM-related college studies or technical careers.

For Jr. Game Changer Kelvin Kariuki, the NASA camp reaffirmed what he already knew – he loves engineering and computer programming.

“I really enjoyed building the mBot,” said Kelvin. And one word he’d use to describe the overall experience?

“Awesome!”

Kelvin said the camp wasn’t what he expected. “I thought we’d be in rooms with people talking all day,” he said.

That wasn’t the case.

In the four short days the students were in camp, they programmed mBots, Sumos and Ollies, flew drones, learned Autodesk and Tickle, worked with 3D printers, soldered, and toured Langley facilities such as the flight simulators, hangar and ISAAC robot under the guidance of GCD staff and interns, the National Institute of Aerospace, and volunteers.

Nancy Hornung, GCD program analyst, served as the camp’s project manager. Hornung said that all the planning was worth the outcome.

“It is humbling to me to think that our camp interaction may change a life,” Hornung said. “These students were eager to learn and we definitely planted seeds.”

Another innovative aspect of the camp is that Wusk used the energy and youth of several NIFS interns who were supporting GCD as part of the Space Tech Academy.

The interns did everything from develop the curriculum for the camp, teach and supervise the campers to documenting the experience with photos and video.

Mark Marioneaux, a physics and engineering teacher at Heritage High School, said the camp has been good for the students, particularly the hands-on activities.

“They really loved the drones and the soldering,” Marioneaux said. “All of the students have been talking about jobs in programming and if they can solder back at school. The fact that college interns served as their mentors was huge. It’s nice for them to be around people closer to their age, so that they can really relate to them.”

In addition to all of the hands-on activities the campers experienced, they also received guidance and support from lunchtime speakers. Langley’s Mia Siochi, Anna McGowan and Juan Cruz were among those who took time out of their day to inspire the campers.

Even Lanetra Tate and Damian Taylor of the Space Technology Mission Directorate traveled down from NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. to share their personal journeys with the Jr. Game Changers.

“Don’t allow anyone to label you,” Tate offered. “Create your own path.”

Tate, who majored in chemistry in college, said it wasn’t her favorite subject, but she chose it because it was a challenge.

“It took dogged determination to conquer chemistry,” she said. “But I did it, and so can you.”

Taylor offered a similar message.

“It’s not where you start in life, it’s where you want to go,” he said.

Thirty-five rising high school freshmen, shown here in NASA Langley’s aircraft hangar, took part in a four-day camp to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Credits: NASA/Harlen Capen

Thirty-five rising high school freshmen, shown here in NASA Langley’s aircraft hangar, took part in a four-day camp to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Credits: NASA/Harlen Capen

Amy Leigh McCluskey
NASA Langley Research Center

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA works to improve fire shelters for firefighters

granite-mount-hotshots

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (KSAZ)
June of 2013 a devastating tragedy unfolded as the Yarnell Hill Fire forces 19 hotshots to deploy their fire shelters.

None survived.

NASA documented the tragedy in a chilling video.

The loss inspired NASA Space and others to think there has to be a better way to protect those in a fire fight when they get trapped by flames.

“When we learned about the tragedy at Granite Mountain then we began to wonder if some the material we were working on could improve fire shelters and NASA independently had the same idea and when we realized we shared that common interest we began to work together,” said Steve Miller, part of the NASA team designing the new fire shelter.

Steve Miller and Associates Research Foundation in Flagstaff joined the NASA team that is looking for a better fire shelter.

“This is all about buying time in a life or death situation where there is no other way for a firefighter to escape.”

Instead of looking for a new fire shelter material, the team is designing a fire shelter using standard aerospace materials.

“We’re reentering the atmosphere so is there any potential we could use these thermal protection systems to improve shelters they’re using for these entrapment situations,” said Miller.

The standard shelter and new design is a sandwich of materials, that include fiberglass insulation used in aerospace, a high temperature plastic film, and a gas barrier. The end goal is to buy time for a firefighter who has deployed the tent.

Convective heat is what they are most concerned about. In fact the name of the NASA team is CHIEFS: Convective Heat Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters.

“Because the winds move at 70 miles an hour and carry a lot of heat and they transfer it into a tent very quickly so we need to improve that component of this to protect the firefighters for a longer time,” said Miller.

The US Forest Service, and Miller introduced the new design to Senator John McCain and a group of wildland firefighters in Flagstaff in July.

Senator McCain asked the US forest service firefighters how much confidence they had in the emergency fire shelter.

But the firefighters also acknowledged they would not want to be without it as a last resort.

The new design of the fire shelter is still in research and development says Miller, but will be ready for final testing next year.

The Forest Service wants to test prototypes by next summer and perhaps have the new shelter ready for use by 2018.

 

 
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*Source: Fox10Phoenix.com

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Revolutionary Camera Recording Propulsion Data Completes Groundbreaking Test

 

While thousands turned out watch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) recently complete a full-scale test of its booster, few were aware of the other major test occurring simultaneously. NASA’s High Dynamic Range Stereo X (HiDyRS-X) project, a revolutionary high-speed, high dynamic range camera, filmed the test, recording propulsion video data in never before seen detail.

The HiDyRS-X project originated from a problem that exists when trying to film rocket motor tests. Rocket motor plumes, in addition to being extremely loud, are also extremely bright, making them difficult to record without drastically cutting down the exposure settings on the camera. Doing so, however, darkens the rest of the image, obscuring other important components on the motor.

Traditionally, video cameras record using one exposure at a time, but HiDyRS-X records multiple, slow motion video exposures at once, combining them into a high dynamic range video that perfectly exposes all areas of the video image.

The HiDyRS-X project began as part of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Early Career Initiative (ECI), designed to give young engineers the opportunity to lead projects and develop hardware alongside leading innovators in industry. Howard Conyers, a structural dynamist at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, was awarded as an ECI grant in 2015. After initial proof of concept and a preliminary design review, the HiDyRS-X project was placed within NASA’s Game Changing Development program to complete its first prototype. Created in partnership with Innovative Imaging and Research Corporation, the project was tested on small rocket nozzle plumes at Stennis.

The massive booster test served as a rare opportunity to test the HiDyRS-X hardware in a full-scale environment. The Qualification Motor 2, or QM-2, test was held at Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah, and was the second and final booster test before SLS’s first test flight in late 2018. SLS will be the most powerful rocket in the world, and will take our astronauts farther into deep space than ever before.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) recently completed full-scale test of its booster Image of Space Launch System Qualification Motor 2 test or, QM-2, without using HiDyRS-X camera. Credit: NASA

Image of Space Launch System Qualification Motor 2 test or, QM-2, with HiDyRS-X camera. Credit: NASA

Image of Space Launch System Qualification Motor 2 test or, QM-2, with HiDyRS-X camera. Credit: NASA

In moving from the smaller-scale tests to QM-2, Conyers says the most difficult challenges were seen in compensating for brightness of the booster plume, which is several orders of magnitude brighter than what they had tested before. They were also faced with transporting and assembling the equipment at the QM-2 test site located in the desert of Utah — a remote environment requiring the HiDyRS-X team to be self-sufficient, as well as deliberate and methodical in their preparation and set up. Unlike the smaller scale rocket engine tests at Stennis, boosters are extremely powerful and, once ignited, cannot be turned off or restarted. The HiDyRS-X team had one shot at getting good footage.

In the days prior to the test of QM-2, the HiDyRS-X team double- and triple-checked their connections and start procedures to allow the camera to collect as much footage as possible. Leading up to the day of the test, the team performed several more dry runs using the camera to ensure that everything was working perfectly, Conyers says.

With thousands of people assembled over a mile away to watch the fiery plume of the solid rocket booster, Conyers and his team monitored the camera from a safe distance, ready to act in case something went wrong. As the countdown clock ticked down to zero, the SRB ignited and the HiDyRS-X team watched the camera’s automatic timer fail to go off. Luckily, they were quick to hit the manual override, allowing the camera to turn on just moments after ignition.

Once engaged, the camera recorded several seconds of the two-minute test before the power source was suddenly disconnected. In an unanticipated series of events, the sheer power of the booster shook the ground enough for the power cable to be removed from the power box.

Having had two unexpected camera outages during the test, Conyers described being disappointed.

“I was bummed,” Conyers says. “Especially because we did not experience any failures during the dry runs.”

When the team reviewed the camera footage, they saw a level of detail on par with the other successful HiDyRS-X tests. The team saw several elements never before caught on film in an engine test.

“I was amazed to see the ground support mirror bracket tumbling and the vortices shedding in the plume,” Conyers says. The team was able to gather interesting data from the slow motion footage, and Conyers also discovered something else by speeding up the playback.

“I was able to clearly see the exhaust plume, nozzle and the nozzle fabric go through its gimbaling patterns, which is an expected condition, but usually unobservable in slow motion or normal playback rates.”

Although initially disappointed with the camera anomalies, Conyers and the HiDyRS-X team came out of QM-2 with proof that their technology worked and that it had the ability to provide unprecedented views of high exposure rocket motor tests. The test experience also left Conyers with two major lessons learned for the future. First, to start the camera a full ten seconds before ignition to allow the ground team time to start the camera manually in the event of a timer failure. The second lesson, Conyers adds, is to understand just how powerful the engine tests are to properly protect and secure the electronics hardware from damage or disconnection.

“Failure during testing of the camera is the opportunity to get smarter,” Conyers says. “Without failure, technology and innovation is not possible.”

HiDyRS-X will continue testing at Stennis, while a second prototype of the camera is built with more advanced high dynamic range capabilities, using data gathered from the past few years of experimentation. The second HiDyRS-X prototype will be made with an improved manufacturing process to enhance the alignment capabilities of multiple exposure settings — a challenge overcome in the first prototype.

HiDyRS-X not only stands as a game changing technology expected to revolutionize propulsion video analysis, but it also stands as a testament to ECI and the power of determined young engineers within NASA. Seasoned NASA employees and recent hires alike have the capacity to significantly contribute to NASA’s research and development goals. ECI’s emphasis on pairing young engineers with innovative industry partners enables technological leaps that would otherwise be impossible.

“The Stennis HiDyRS-X ECI project continues to be an exciting and challenging public-private collaboration of which we are proud to be a part,” says Mary Pagnutti, president of the Innovative Imaging and Research Corporation. “It’s giving us the chance to mentor early career technologists and advance the way we image and assess rocket motor firings.”

 

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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Futuristic Hardware Featured at Game Changing Technology Industry Day

Allan Villorin, IDEAS lead integration engineer

Allan Villorin, IDEAS lead integration engineer, left, is seen demonstrating the IDEAS technology during the exhibits portion of the first Game Changing Development Industry Day in Arlington, Virginia. Credits: NASA

By Amanda Griffin
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Delvin Vannorman, IDEAS software engineer, is shown modeling the Osterhout Design Group’s R-7 smart glasses integrated with the IDEAS Infrared Camera and running custom NASA-developed software. Credits: NASA

Delvin Vannorman, IDEAS software engineer, is shown modeling the Osterhout Design Group’s R-7 smart glasses integrated with the IDEAS Infrared Camera and running custom NASA-developed software. Credits: NASA

What started as a concept less than two years ago through the Early Career Initiative (ECI) — a program that encourages creativity and innovation among early career NASA technologists — is well on its way to becoming a viable technology to solve a myriad of space and Earth-bound challenges.

Imagine a futuristic movie in which the main character is wearing a pair of glasses that presents all the information needed to complete a task. Developed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Integrated Display and Environmental Awareness Systems, or IDEAS, is a wearable, optical computer that allows users to view and modify information on an interactive display.

Once just a notion, IDEAS quickly has progressed to become one of 11 technologies featured at the Game Changing Technology Industry Day in Arlington, Virginia, earlier this summer.

This year’s industry day focused on current technologies that would fit commercial and academic partnerships, and included Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, Human Robotic Systems, Affordable Vehicle Avionics, Nanotechnology and Next Generation Life Support.

“NASA has earned credibility by making the impossible possible,” said IDEAS lead integration engineer Allan Villorin of Kennedy’s Engineering Directorate. “It was exciting to share with industry leaders how we envision wearable technology shaping the future of space exploration.”

The hardware on display included a live demonstration of the IDEAS system working on a pair of custom NASA-developed smart glasses and on the R-7, a cutting-edge commercial off-the-shelf wearable designed and built by the Osterhout Design Group.

The team demonstrated the capability to visualize environmental data from portable sensors that can detect a variety of hazardous chemicals and even see in the infrared. A potential game changer in how field-work is done was demonstrated, showing the power of two-way video conferencing integrated with procedure work steps.

The main goal of the industry day was to seek partnerships to further innovation in space exploration, but this also was an opportunity for the IDEAS team to gain an outside perspective on the technology from organizations with similar industrial applications.

“The IDEAS will have a wide range of applications beyond NASA’s use in the space program,” said one of the technology’s creators, David Miranda of the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. “Imagine first responders reporting back to a hospital from the scene of an accident, military personnel reporting in from a battlefield or those working in a hazardous environment. All could benefit from such a system.”

During the first two years of the project, the IDEAS team partnered with innovative organizations around Kennedy. Thanks to the valuable contributions of Abacus Technology, Florida Institute of Technology’s Human-Centered Design Institute, and Purple Rock Scissors, the IDEAS technology rapidly progressed from concept to a real prototype.

With the ECI funding coming to an end at the beginning of next year, the team of Kennedy innovators hopes that in the next few years the prototype technology can be advanced to its final step in development. New commercial collaborations would allow NASA to work with industry partners to develop new capabilities and mature the technology so that can be used in the field to the benefit of all.

 

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Helping Firefighters Build Better Shelters: Space Technology for Terrestrial Dangers

Credits: NASA

NASA is on a terrestrial mission to apply cutting-edge technology to protect firefighters in the field.

Normally, NASA is tasked with safeguarding expensive and technologically advanced spacecraft (and astronauts) from the extreme temperatures that come with reentering the atmosphere of a planet (like earth). And they’re pretty good at it.

But there’s another place that technology could save lives, and NASA took note a few years ago when wildfire fighters were killed while trying to control a blaze. A 2013 fire in Arizona killed 19, as current fire shelter technology failed.

Since early 2015 a group of NASA scientists has been applying technology to help the U.S. Forest Service build a better shelter.

 

 
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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA to Begin Testing Next Generation of Spacecraft Heat Exchangers

NASA’s deep space Orion spacecraft requires tight control of thermal temperatures to protect crew and equipment. Credits: Lockheed Martin
 

Orion spacecraft

NASA’s deep space Orion spacecraft requires tight control of thermal temperatures to protect crew and equipment.Credits: Lockheed Martin

Crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are receiving a unique hardware delivery today that can help shape NASA’s human journey beyond Earth and into deep space.

The Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX) Demonstration Facility hitched a ride to the space station on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft, which launched July 18 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Dragon arrived at station in the early hours of July 20, and crew will soon begin unloading the spacecraft of the nearly 5,000 pounds of science, research and hardware for the orbiting laboratory.

This hardware is one of NASA’s Game Changing Development program’s efforts that will advance space technologies and may lead to entirely new approaches for the agency’s future missions and solutions to significant national needs. Even more novel is that this high-tech gear is stuffed with wax that has a crayon-like texture.

Phase Change Heat Exchanger Demonstration Facility

Phase Change Heat Exchanger Demonstration Facility for use on the International Space Station will test use of wax to control temperatures for possible use on the Orion spacecraft. Credits: NASA/Rubik Sheth

Thermal challenge
The use of wax dates as far back as 221-206 B.C., but it may not come to mind as ideal for 21st century space travel, but that’s the case, explains Rubik Sheth, project manager and systems engineer in the Thermal Systems Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

One future destination for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is supporting a crew in cislunar space. “It gets really hot when the spacecraft is between the sun and the moon,” Sheth says, so sending humans to deep space around the moon is a thermal challenge. “We need these phase change material heat exchangers to absorb the excess waste energy that Orion will take in,” he explains.

Sheth notes that heat exchangers freeze or thaw a material to sustain critical temperatures inside a spacecraft, thus protecting crew members and equipment.

That material of choice to be showcased on the phase change material heat exchanger aboard the ISS is N-pentadecane. “It’s pretty much like crayon wax in its consistency and the way it feels,” Sheth says.

How it works
The phase changer material heat exchanger — PCM HX for short — stores energy by thawing a phase change material, in this case wax, using hot coolant. That energy is later rejected by the spacecraft’s radiator, then refreezes the wax and prepares it for the next spike of heat load. This new type of heat exchanger could help offset heat experienced by Orion and better regulate temperatures, says Sheth.

Phase Change Heat Exchanger Demonstration Facility

Phase Change Heat Exchanger Demonstration Facility for use on the International Space Station will test use of wax to control temperatures for possible use on the Orion spacecraft. Credits: NASA/Rubik Sheth

“That’s why we’re flying it to the space station to see how it works in microgravity, and then take the next step in implementing the concept.” Wax and wane of idea Using wax in a PCM HX was tried out in trial and error fashion on NASA’s Skylab experimental space station that housed crews in 1973-1974. Similarly, wax was utilized earlier as a passive means of cooling instrumentation on lunar rovers used in the Apollo moon-landing project. However, results were inconsistent, Sheth points out.

“We took a total re-look,” Sheth says. Working with United Technologies Aerospace Systems of Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the wax-based PCM HX was built for flight demonstration. The test facility for ISS uses a thermal control system with built-in heaters and thermoelectric devices that aids in the freezing and thawing cycles of the PCM HX.

A removable kitchen drawer-like section of the PCM HX facility is loaded with about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of wax. “The wax itself can hold 200 kilojoules of energy per kilogram. So for every kilogram of wax I can stuff 200 kilojoules of energy in there.” Sheth says.

A removable kitchen drawer-like section of the Phase Change Heat Exchanger

A removable kitchen drawer-like section of the Phase Change Heat Exchanger Demonstration Facility carries some 10-pounds (4.5 kilograms) of wax. Credits: NASA/Rubik Sheth

That is the equivalent of about eight hours of energy to light a compact fluorescent light bulb.

A PCM HX using wax, as contrasted to using gallons and gallons of water, equates to a potential mass savings for Orion spacecraft builders.

Back on Earth
Aboard the ISS, the equipment can operate day and night. But it’s a power-hungry unit when working to lower temperatures down to between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. That means having to share power with other station payloads; choreography is needed to distribute electricity between experiments.

“We want to run through December of this year,” Sheth says.

By year’s end, the wax is to be removed from the facility and then returned to Earth. The actual demonstration facility will remain onboard the ISS, ready for other experiments that require coolant temperatures below -10 degrees Celsius, Sheth points out.

Once back in NASA hands, the wax will be visually inspected for any deformities and then cut it in half. “We want to see how the wax maintained the internal geometry of the heat exchanger unit itself,” Sheth says. That appraisal could make a future wax-based PCM HX even more efficient.

Sheth says the goal is to give the Orion spacecraft team a report for Orion’s Exploration Mission 2, or EM-2, subsystem critical design review process for the phase change material to be chosen for EM-2, slated to be the first crewed mission on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.

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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Works with U.S. Forest Service to Improve Fire Shelters

 

NASA engineers say they’re making progress in their efforts to help the U.S. Forest Service design a better emergency fire shelter for wildland firefighters.

The NASA Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters or CHIEFS project started because of the deadly Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona in 2013. Nineteen firefighters were trapped in a raging, wind-driven wildfire and the emergency shelters they carried and used were unable to save them.

“When I saw that on the news, it just shook me to the core,” said Mary Beth Wusk, now the acting program manager of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The huge loss of those firefighters made some of us at NASA think about how our research might help improve firefighter survivability.”

NASA Langley engineer Mary Beth Wusk, at right, participated in personal fire tent shelter concept tests at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in September 2015. To the left in the photo are University of Alberta researcher Mark Ackerman, standing; and U.S. Forest Service Fire Shelter Project lead Tony Petrilli, who is leaning over the shelter. Credits: U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob

NASA Langley engineer Mary Beth Wusk, at right, participated in personal fire tent shelter concept tests at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in September 2015. To the left in the photo are University of Alberta researcher Mark Ackerman, standing; and U.S. Forest Service Fire Shelter Project lead Tony Petrilli, who is leaning over the shelter.
Credits: U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob

At the time Wusk was part of a group at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, that is developing flexible thermal protection systems for inflatable heat shields for spacecraft. NASA Langley signed an agreement with the Forest Service in early 2015 to see if some of its space-age materials could help save firefighters’ lives.

“We’ve been able to use our decade of experience developing flexible heat shield materials, which have a lot of things in common with fire shelter materials,” said Josh Fody, CHIEFS task lead. “We have approached the challenge of designing a new shelter from an engineering perspective, starting with screening small samples of 70 materials and over 290 unique combinations of those materials.

NASA is working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) in Montana and Fire Shelter Project leads Anthony Petrilli and Mary Ann Davies. The MTDC team had started a review of the fire shelter design and new materials technology in 2014 with the goal of producing an improved shelter by 2018.

Petrilli has personal knowledge that he can apply to the redesign. As a wildland firefighter in Colorado in 1994 he survived a blaze by using the fire shelter that was part of his gear. Seven others fighting the fire with him also lived, but 14 others did not.

“Our project is trying to take advantage of advances in materials that may offer better protection by slowing the transfer of heat through the shelter layers,” said Petrilli. So the Forest Service and NASA have been testing layered combinations or lay-ups of materials to see which might prove the most effective.

“We learned quickly we couldn’t repurpose our materials directly,” said Fody. “You can’t just take an inflatable heat shield and turn it into a fire shelter. The constraints for mass and volume are far too strict for the fire shelter world.”

Fody says the current shelters are less than a millimeter thick, weigh 4.3 pounds (1.95 kilograms) and pack into a size similar to a half gallon of milk.

“What we ended up doing was drawing more on the test experience and expertise that our senior engineers have and using that to benefit the CHIEFs project,” added Fody. “We’ve learned how to make the insulations more efficient, how to get them smaller and lighter and then we learned even more when we tested the lay-ups in the real world.”

That real world consisted of two different set-ups in Canada, where the Forest Service tests its shelters, and additional tests at North Carolina State University.

NASA Langley researcher Josh Fody, standing at left, prepares shelter concept for testing with U.S. Forest Service personnel Tony Petrilli, center, and Shawn Steber, at right. Credits: U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob

NASA Langley researcher Josh Fody, standing at left, prepares shelter concept for testing with U.S. Forest Service personnel Tony Petrilli, center, and Shawn Steber, at right.
Credits: U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob

“Last summer we were in Canada at the University of Alberta,” said Wusk. “We spent three days testing 22 full-scale shelters representing nine different configurations. Four of those configurations were NASA designs.”

University researchers set up a test rig that included a small metal shed equipped with eight large propane burners. The shelters were placed inside the shed, instrumented with heat and gas measuring devices, and then torched so NASA and the Forest Service could see how well the different layups performed.

The team had already tried to assess the new designs in an actual woods fire set in a remote section of Canada’s Northwest Territories, but those tests had to be stopped when the firefighters overseeing the controlled burn were called away to fight an actual wildfire.

“I was really proud of the NASA shelters. The materials did really well,” said Wusk.

The materials proved effective, but researchers noted challenges with the actual designs during the testing. Flames ended up entering under the bottom, in part because there was no one inside holding the test shelters down. Hot gasses also penetrated the seams.

So the team came up with second-generation shelter concepts that they put through flame tests this year. The team returned to the University of Alberta in Edmonton to evaluate five concepts and then traveled closer to home to the Thermal Protection Laboratory at the North Carolina State University College of Textiles in Raleigh to assess 22 shelter prototypes over three months.

The NASA CHIEFS project, which is funded by the Game Changing Development Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, plans to wrap up its research this fall with more tests in Canada. Engineers expect to turn over their findings to the U.S. Forest Service by early 2017. The Forest Service has said it wants have new test shelter prototypes to firefighters by next summer and an approved updated fire shelter ready for use by 2018.

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*Source: NASA.gov

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Developing a more effective fire shelter

Fire approaching firefighters in fire shelters – Little Venus Fire, Wyoming, 2006. Photo: Ryan Jordan

Fire approaching firefighters in fire shelters – Little Venus Fire, Wyoming, 2006. Photo: Ryan Jordan

In 1959, the U.S. Forest Service, Missoula (Mont.) Equipment and Development Center began development work to design an emergency fire shelter for wildland firefighters. The first documented use of a fire crew using fire shelters for protection from a fire was in 1964 in Southern California, thirty-six lives were saved by the experimental fire shelters.

Credits: Wildfire Magazine

Credits: Wildfire Magazine

In 1967 fire shelters were mass produced for firefighters to carry when it was deemed necessary. The early version of the fire shelter was aluminum foil laminated to fiberglass fabric with a Kraft paper liner designed into an A-frame structure.

During the 1970s, the paper liner was eliminated in the design. Policy was changed in 1977 to require all US federal firefighters to carry fire shelters while working fires. Minor changes were made to the design during the 1980s and 1990s. From 1964 into the 2000s, it is estimated the fire shelter saved 300 lives, and prevented serious burn injury to another 300 firefighters; however, 20 firefighters died in fire shelters during that sametime period.

In 2000, Forest Service Fire Management officials directed the now named Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) to pursue development of a more protective fire shelter. Many new materials and shelter designs were considered and tested. Interagency Fire Directors selected the New Generation Fire Shelter in 2002. This new shelter shows marked improvement in protection vs. the old-style shelter, but it is not able to provide sufficient protection in the most extreme fire conditions.The shelter is constructed into a rounded shape and is made of two layers of laminated material. The outer layer is made of woven silica laminated to aluminum foil, while the inner layer is made of woven fiberglass material laminated to aluminum foil.

There have been 159 new shelters deployed, saving 25 lives and preventing 102 firefighter burn injuries; however, 21 lives have also been lost. Nineteen of those lives were of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew in an incident near Yarnell, AZ on June 30, 2013.

The Fire Shelter Project Review was initiated in 2014. The project is pursuing advances in materials that may offer increased protection by slowing the transfer of heat through the shelter layers. Historically, many high-temperature resistive materials are relatively heavy, bulky, fragile and/or toxic. These are all attributes that are not suitable for fire shelters. A few entities are submitting promising materials for testing, one of those is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Langley Research Center (LaRC) located in Hampton, Virginia.

For the past decade, NASA LaRC has been conducting materials development of flexible high temperature insulations for use on inflatable heat shields. Projects such as the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) are designing these novel inflatables for the delivery of large payloads to Mars. The use of a large heat shield made of conventional rigid materials, like the one used on the Apollo capsule, is impractical for this type of application. By creating an inflatable structure, heat shields 20 feet in diameter, or larger, can be packed down to less than 20% of their original diameter, allowing them to fit into launch vehicles of a practical size.

Highly efficient, flexible, durable, thin, and lightweight insulations are required to protect these inflatable structures from the enormous heat of re-entry, and there are several similarities between NASA’s flexible heat shields and the fire shelter. After learning of the tragedy at Yarnell Hill, NASA LaRC researchers reached out to MTDC to offer their expertise and assistance in the development of new materials and shelter designs for the Fire Shelter Project Review, with the goal of providing a safer shelter for future fire fighters.

The NASA fire shelter development effort became known as Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters (CHIEFS), and was tasked with improving the fire shelter’s resistance to direct flame exposure. The CHIEFS team quickly realized that flexible heat shield materials used for atmospheric re-entry vehicles could not be directly applied to the fire shelter. Flexible heat shields are designed to withstand more than 10 times the thermal load of a typical forest fire and consequently materials are too robust to be appropriate for the tight mass and volume constraints of the fire shelter. However, the experience amassed during the development of flexible heat shields has proven advantageous to CHIEFS research.

An example of a material layup used in CHIEFS fire shelter tests. Photo: NASA.

An example of a material layup used in CHIEFS fire shelter tests. Photo: NASA.

CHIEFS began work by developing a small scale convective heating test apparatus based on existing test standards used by the U.S. Forest Service, which employs a propane flame to rapidly screen various material samples. To date, CHIEFS has used this small-scale apparatus to test the thermal performance of more than 300 unique material layups – combinations of multiple individual layers – and in doing so has evaluated more than 70 individual materials.

The individual material layers in a layup can be selected to target the suppression of various modes of heat transfer; the order of these layers is also important. By parametrically varying the composition and ordering of these layups, candidate fire shelter concepts can be optimized to provide maximum thermal protection while maintaining acceptable levels of mass, volume, durability, toxicity, and cost.

Once past the initial screening, promising candidate materials are manufactured into full-scale fire shelters for further testing. During the summer of 2015, the first round of CHIEFS full-scale shelters – along with shelters submitted to MTDC by other vendors – were evaluated in both controlled wildfires in Canada as well as in a series of controlled laboratory fire enclosure tests. All CHIEFS shelters performed well thermally, and the tests also provided many “real world” lessons, not realized in the earlier small-scale development, that are now being implemented into a second round of CHIEFS shelters.

CHIEFS-Shelters-Tested-in-Controlled-Wildfire

Flames engulfing test shelters in controlled wildfire – NW Territories, Canada, 2015 Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

Currently, CHIEFS is completing fabrication of their next round of full-scale fire shelters. These shelters will undergo preliminary evaluations, and then promising candidate layups will be evaluated in another round of full-scale shelter testing. This testing will take place along with candidates from other vendors in spring, 2016, at the MTDC. The goal is to have shelters with a significant increase in performance with minimal increase in weight and bulk that then can go forward to field testing. The CHIEFS team has thoroughly enjoyed their collaborative effort with MTDC, and is excited to continue development of more efficient fire shelters and help make our nation’s wildland firefighters safer on the ground.

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*Source: WildFireMagazine.org

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NASA’s NICER mission arrives at Kennedy Space Center

NASA NICER

NICER Mechanical Engineer Steven Kenyon (left) and GPS and Star Tracker Camera Engineer Eric Rogstad (right) prepare NICER for shipment to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The payload will be deployed on the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2017. Credit: Barbara Lambert

June 8, 2016 by Clare Skelly

An upcoming NASA astrophysics mission will uncover the physics governing the ultra-dense interiors of neutron stars. Using the same platform, the mission will demonstrate trailblazing space navigation technology.

The multipurpose Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday, June 8. The forthcoming International Space Station (ISS) payload was transported from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, aboard a climate-controlled, air-suspension truck.
A neutron star begins its life as a star approximately 10 times the mass of the sun. When its nuclear fuel is exhausted, the star’s outer layers explode in a supernova. Crushed by its own gravity, the star’s core collapses and forms a neutron star. These collapsed stellar corpses are the densest, most strongly magnetic and most rapidly spinning objects known in the universe.

Neutron stars, which squeeze up to twice the sun’s mass into a city-size volume, are powerfully bound by gravity that is exceeded only around black holes. Theory has advanced a host of models to describe the physics of neutron star interiors, including the very nature of high-density matter that cannot be produced in any laboratory on Earth. NICER’s astrophysical observations will test these models.

Some rapidly rotating neutron stars, called pulsars, are cosmic lighthouses that sweep narrow beams of radiation through space as they spin. Pulsars can spin up to hundreds of times every second, producing flashes of light from radio through gamma rays detected at Earth with clock-like regularity. NICER will exploit these pulsations to perform cutting-edge astrophysics investigations while another aspect of the mission – the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) project – demonstrates a technological first: real-time, autonomous spacecraft navigation using pulsars as beacons, ultimately furthering deep space exploration into the solar system and beyond.

NICE X-ray

A view of the NICER X-ray Timing Instrument without its protective blanketing shows a collection of 56 close-packed sunshades — the white and black cylinders in the foreground — that protect the X-ray optics (not visible here), as well as some of the 56 X-ray detector enclosures, on the gold-colored plate, onto which X-rays from the sky are focused. Credit: Keith Gendreau

NICER’s X-ray Timing Instrument (XTI) offers an unprecedented combination of capabilities to view the emissions of neutron stars in “soft” X-ray light (less energetic than the X-rays typically used for medical imaging). A bundle of 56 co-aligned optics and X-ray sensors, the instrument represents an innovative configuration of flight-proven components, minimizing risk and meeting the science investigation’s demands of fast timing and the ability to measure the energies of detected X-ray photons.

“Thanks to a terrific development team, we’re pleased to have delivered NICER two weeks ahead of our original schedule crafted almost four years ago,” said Keith Gendreau, NICER’s principal investigator at Goddard. “We’re looking forward to launching on a SpaceX rocket and integrating with the International Space Station. From this platform, NICER will provide both unique insights into neutron star physics and validation of a technology that may one day lead humanity into deep space.”

NICER will operate from the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 2 on the ISS after launch, extraction from the transfer vehicle and installation. NICER is planned for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard the SpaceX-11 ISS Commercial Resupply Services flight, currently scheduled for February 2017. The baseline mission lifetime is 18 months. The NICER team anticipates initial science results by late summer 2017.

Keith Gendreau and Zaven Arzoumanian are the mission’s principal and deputy principal investigators, respectively. NASA Goddard provides overall mission design, development, management, science leadership, system engineering as well as payload integration, testing and flight operations. Partners from industry and academia include Moog Inc., the Technical University of Denmark and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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*Source: Phys.org

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Pinoy wins in NASA engineering challenge

A group of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top honors in NASA’s first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.Credits: NASA

They are the future of space exploration. PHOTO: Facebook/Jose Mari Tuason Credits: NASA

For Jose Mari Tuason, rocket science can be fun.

In fact, Tuason won the first National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge together with his teammates from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
According to the NASA website, “the challenge asked them to examine unique ways of leveraging inflatable entry vehicle technology to help guide the spacecraft as it descends through a planetary atmosphere.”

Say whut?!

In a nutshell, they were asked for innovative ideas using Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) technology. The project will benefit future Mars missions by providing additional mission flexibility.

Tuason and his teammates had to defend their idea at a design review in NASA’s Langley Research Center last Monday, Apr 25.
Their team bested the representatives from Georgia Tech, The State University of New York at Buffalo, and Purdue University.

On his Facebook post, Tuason expressed his surprise over their team’s win.

tuason

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*Source: Coconuts Manila

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Filipino student among the winners of NASA’s design challenge

Jose Mari Tuason (pictured holding the certificate of recognition) poses for a photo together with his professor and teammates from the University of Illinois.

Jose Mari Tuason (pictured holding the certificate of recognition) poses for a photo together with his professor and teammates from the University of Illinois.Credits: NASA

Another talented Filipino has made waves internationally, as college student Jose Mari Tuason was among the awardees of the first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge hosted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) earlier this week.

Tuason, together with his teammates from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, bested other competitors from top US colleges including Georgia Tech, The State University of New York at Buffalo and Purdue University, inside NASA’s Langley Research Center.

Citing reports from The Filipino Times, the contest solicited innovative ideas which would help increase the lift-to-drag ratio of NASA’s inflatable spacecraft invention, the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD).

Tuason and his crew clinched victory after convincing a panel of space exploration experts with their flawless version on how to improve HIAD’s lifting capabilities on space stations.

Led by their professor Zachery Putnam, the bright students left the judges in awe by demonstrating a combination of moveable mass and cable system, which morphed the HIAD shape and provided it with direct lift control.

Among those impressed by the groups’ feat was Acting Director of Game Changing Development (GCD) Program, Mary Wusk.
“Now is the time when revolutions in technology and engineering will be the markers of tomorrow’s success in space exploration,” said the GCD chief at NASA Langley. “We recognize the value in engaging top talent from America’s brightest collegiate students and faculty, and are making university collaboration a priority to remain at the forefront of these revolutions”.

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*Source: Inquirer.net

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NASA gives solar ionic propulsion a monster boost

NASA: Ion power plant could potentially increase spaceflight fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical rockets

NASA this week took a giant step toward using solar electric power for future space missions by awarding a $67 million to Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop an advanced electric propulsion system.

Such a system would deploy large solar arrays that can be used to convert sunlight into electrical power that ionizes atoms of xenon which is the propellant for the spacecraft’s thrusters. The thrust of such a power plant isn’t huge but its ability to provide increasing, continuous power over a long period of time is what makes it so attractive for long-duration spaceflights.

In addition, such a power plant could potentially increase spaceflight fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems, NASA said.

Specifically Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop and deliver an integrated electric propulsion system – known as the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) — consisting of a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. NASA has developed and tested a prototype thruster and PPU that the company can use as a reference design, the space agency stated.

NASA has long experimented and used different forms of electronic electric propulsion technology. NASA said the first successful ion electric propulsion thruster was developed at Glenn Research Center in the 1950s. The first operational test of an electric propulsion system in space was Glenn’s Space Electric Rocket Test 1, which flew on July 20, 1964. Since then, NASA has increasingly relied on solar electric propulsion for long-duration, deep space robotic science and exploration missions the most recent being NASA’s Dawn mission which surveyed the giant asteroid Vesta and the protoplanet, Ceres, between 2011 and 2015.

 
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*Source: Network World

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Wins NASA/NIA BIG Idea Challenge

A group of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top honors in NASA’s first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.Credits: NASA

Credits: NASA

A group of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top honors in NASA’s first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. The BIG Idea Challenge is an engineering design competition sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.  The challenge solicited ideas to increase the lift-to-drag ratio on the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) in ways that could potentially help NASA land heavier payloads with even greater accuracy on missions to a variety of destinations. HIAD is an inflatable device designed to slow down a spacecraft upon atmospheric re-entry to Earth or other planets. The other teams that reached the finals of the competition were from Georgia Tech, The State University of New York at Buffalo and Purdue University. The final four teams presented their concepts in a design review held Monday, April 25, at NASA’s Langley Research Center. The winner, as selected by a panel of experts, was announced in a ceremony held the next day. The University of Illinois team, led by professor Zachery Putnam, received first place for using a combination of moveable mass and a cable system to morph the HIAD shape and provide direct lift control. “Now is the time when revolutions in technology and engineering will be the markers of tomorrow’s success in space exploration,” said Mary E. Wusk, acting director for GCD at NASA Langley.  “We recognize the value in engaging top talent from America’s brightest collegiate students and faculty, and are making university collaboration a priority to remain at the forefront of these revolutions.” For more information about the BIG Idea competition, visit www.BIGidea.nianet.org.

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*Source: NASA

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UB students design inflatable heat shield for NASA Mars mission contest

UB Students

From left to right, Levi Li, Henry Kwan and Samuel Tedesco – all senior mechanical engineering majors at UB – are among the finalists for a NASA-sponsored contest to design a heat shield for future missions to Mars. Credit: Douglas Levere.

“This is a fantastic example of the skills and tenacity that our students are known for, and of the opportunities available to students at UB.” — Kemper Lewis, professor and chair Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

By Cory Nealon
Release Date: April 20, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The path for humans to Mars could be paved by University at Buffalo students.
A team of five UB student engineers developed plans for a massive inflatable heat shield designed to protect spacecraft – and potentially astronauts – from the white-hot heat that objects encounter upon entering the red planet’s atmosphere.
The team’s work impressed NASA and partner organization, the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), which last fall called upon college students nationwide to submit proposals for a contest called the Breakthrough, Innovate, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.

A rendering of the Mars mission inflatable heat shield designed by UB students.

A rendering of the Mars mission inflatable heat shield designed by UB students.

Earlier this spring, NASA and NIA chose the top four plans, which came from students at UB, Georgia Tech, Purdue University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Now, contest organizers are flying the teams to NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they will present their plans to a panel of judges on April 25-26.

The winning team will be offered paid summer internships at NASA Langley and, potentially, the chance to flight test their concept.

“To have NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace evaluate our plan is really an honor. We’re looking forward to hearing their feedback and, of course, spending time at NASA Langley,” said Henry Kwan, a UB senior mechanical engineering major from Buffalo who helped create the plan.

A rendering of the Mars mission inflatable heat shield designed by UB students.

A rendering of the Mars mission inflatable heat shield designed by UB students.

In addition to Kwan, the other team members are: Anish Kumar, who graduated from UB in 2015; Levi Li, a senior from Queens; Anibal Martinez, who graduated from UB in 2015; and Samuel Tedesco, a senior from Verona Beach. All are students of UB’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and all except Kumar will travel to Virginia.
Contest organizers asked the teams to develop plans for a heatshield – hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD), in NASA speak – much larger than what NASA recently used to land the rover Curiosity on Mars. (The Curiosity heatshield, at roughly 15 feet in diameter, protected the car-sized rover from the 3,800◦F temperatures it encountered entering the atmosphere of Mars.)

The contest dovetails with NASA’s ongoing efforts to develop a new class of heatshields to carry vehicles that weigh up to 30 tons (by contrast, Curiosity weighed 1 ton) to Mars. Potentially, NASA plans to use this type of heatshield for its planned human missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Kemper Lewis, PhD, professor and chair of UB’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is the team’s faculty advisor. He praised the students’ top-notch work.
“Our students’ effort on this project has been incredible, and the early results, being among four colleges chosen from a nationwide pool, indicate that NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace agree,” he said. “This is a fantastic example of the skills and tenacity that our students are known for, and of the opportunities available to students at UB.”

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*Source: University of Buffalo

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Finalists Announced for NASA’s BIG Idea University Design Challenge

Big Idea Challenge

NASA has selected four university teams to advance to the final round of its 2016 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. The challenge asked them to examine unique ways of leveraging inflatable entry vehicle technology to help guide the spacecraft as it descends through a planetary atmosphere.

Teams from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, The State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will present their concepts in a design review at the NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, at the 2016 BIG Idea Forum April 25-26, 2016.

Big Idea Challenge

Big Idea Challenge Credits: NASA

The challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, which is based at Langley.

Challenge participants will draw from NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, technology. HIAD is one of NASA’s leading candidates to enable atmospheric entry for heavy payloads in a variety of destinations, including Mars. By increasing atmospheric lift, it allows for shallower trajectories, which increases vehicle landing-mass capabilities, reduces deceleration and improves landing accuracy.

Each of the final four teams tackled the challenge of generating lift in different and distinctive ways, offering innovative configuration solutions that will ultimately provide enhanced flexibility crucial to HIAD missions.

During the BIG Idea Forum, each team will have the opportunity to convince a panel of six BIG Idea judges that their concept is as feasible as it is revolutionary. With four innovative and unique concepts to choose from, the judges will select one of these teams to continue working with the GDC team during internships at NASA Langley this summer, further developing the most promising concept.

Amy Leigh McCluskey
NASA Langley Research Center

 

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First 3D woven composite for NASA thermal protection systems

3D Woven Quartz

3D woven quartz preform helps to boost performance in the compression pads, part of the thermal protection system (TPS) for the Orion spacecraft. Source: NASA

Orion

NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle has been designed to transport a crew of six to and from deep space, including an asteroid (≈2025) and Mars (≈2030). It comprises two modules: the Crew Module (or Command Module, CM), built by Lockheed Martin (see Sara Black’s article on its composite heat shield) and the Service Module (SM) built by Airbus Defense and Space for the European Space Agency (ESA).

In Dec. 2014, the Orion first flight test vehicle, EFT-1, was successfully launched on a Delta IV heavy rocket, reached an altitude of 5,793 km above earth, achieved speeds of 20,000 mph, and withstood temperatures over 2,200°C during reentry. However, the heat demands of this mission were much lower than what Orion will see when it goes further out, for example, to Mars.

Need for Better Compression Pads

Many lessons were learned during that test, including the need for improved ablative materials for the compression pads which enable attachment of Orion’s CM and SM. These pads — six total used on the EFT-1 spacecraft, redesigned now to total four for future Orion models — measure roughly 280 mm in diameter and 76 mm thick, and must resist launch & ascent loads and pyro-shock (explosive bolts) during CM/SM separation, as well as meet reentry demands for high-temperature resistance and ablation.

Orion's Compression Pads

Orion’s compression pads enable attachment of the Crew and Service Modules (left) and must resist structural loads during launch and ascent, as well as pyro-shock during CM/SM separation. Explosive bolt and CF/phenolic compression pad (center). Six compression pads were evenly spaced around the Orion CM’s blunt body heat shield for EFT-1 (right). Source: Jay Feldman, NASA Ames.

Ablative materials are solid substances which undergo a series of physicochemical transformations to control heat transfer. In other words, they keep underlying structures cool by managing energy as the materials are consumed through melting, vaporization, oxidation, sublimation and spallation. Ablative materials are a key part of a spacecraft’s thermal protection system (TPS), and are commonly made from fiber-reinforced composites. The compression pads discussed here are an important part of the overall TPS design for Orion. (NASA describes Orion’s composite ablative heat shield here.)

EFT-1

Credits::NASA

The carbon fiber/phenolic compression pads on the EFT-1, however, were expected to fail due to poor interlaminar strength unless a steel insert was added to handle some of the structural loads. The insert, which surrounds the explosive bolt, has significantly higher thermal conductivity than the composite, creating a thermal “short” in the TPS.

3D Solution

As a leader in NASA’s heat shield materials research and development, Jay Feldman had already been pursuing an internal R&D program exploring 3D woven fabrics for TPS solutions for subcontractor Analytical Mechanics Associates, Inc. (AMA, Hampton, VA, US) at NASA Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA, US). Feldman led the project “3D Multifunctional Ablative TPS (3D-MAT) for Orion Compression Pad” which began in 2012. The goal was to overcome the traditional interlaminar weakness of 2D laminates and also eliminate the need for metal inserts to receive the bolts.

NASA Ames’ 3D-MAT program trialed different fiber and resin combinations before selecting 3D woven quartz and cyanate ester Source: Jay Feldman and NASA Ames.

NASA Ames’ 3D-MAT program trialed different fiber and resin combinations before selecting 3D woven quartz and cyanate ester Source: Jay Feldman and NASA Ames.

A variety of fiber and resin combinations were trialed, with the compression pads’ structural and thermal requirements driving final selection:

  • 3D orthogonal weave enabled high fiber volume (57%) for structural robustness;
  • Fused quartz fiber provided high temperature capability with low thermal conductivity;
  • Low viscosity cyanate ester resin system allowed hybrid resin infusion/resin transfer molding (RTM) processing to achieve full densification of large 3D woven preforms.

3D-MAT’s new approach uses a straight orthogonal 3D woven quartz material from Bally Ribbon Mills (Bally, PA, US), woven continuously at 76 mm thick and 305 mm wide using a jacquard loom (click here to learn more about 3D weaving). “This is the first application of a 3D woven material in a TPS application for NASA,” says Feldman, ceding that the Dept. of Defense has used 3D carbon/carbon composites in missiles systems. He notes that the 3D architecture places one-third of the fiber in each direction: x, y and, notably, z (through-the-thickness). “One of the challenges was scaling up the weaving process to increase the cross-sectional area by a factor of four in a continuous process,” says Feldman. The next challenge was how to infuse the fabric with cyanate ester resin from TenCate Advanced Composites (Morgan Hill, CA, US) and fully densify it to meet ablation requirements.

Bally Ribbon Mills

Bally Ribbon Mills was able to scale up the 3D preform cross-section by 400% in a continuous process using NASA-funded hardware. San Diego Composites then developed a modified RTM process to infuse the preform with resin. Source: Jay Feldman, NASA.

Hybrid RTM Infusion

To overcome this challenge, Feldman and team worked with San Diego Composites (SDC, San Diego, CA, US), a well-known manufacturer that is making a number of parts for Orion, including the ogive and launch abort system (LAS) fillet. As described in the video below by SDC chief technology officer Ken Mercer, the very dense 3D preform was placed into tooling that evacuated air first, and then injected the resin under pressure.


(click here to play video from beginning)

 
Feldman says the process started with a vacuum soak, followed by resin infusion, cure and post-cure. So, as Mercer says in the video, the process is more like infusion than traditional RTM, although pressure is used to achieve the final low void content. “Less than 2% voids was the limit,” notes Feldman, “but we were able to achieve 0.5%, thanks to SDC’s process development.” SDC then machined and supplied the final circular compression pads.

EM-1 and New Applications

Before SDC proceeded with compression pad production, a full suite of thermal and structural model development was completed, as was tension, compression, thermal conductivity and creep testing, arc jet testing to simulate reentry conditions and testing to simulate pyroshock during CM/SM separation. The 3D-MAT quartz/CE compression pads showed significant material property improvements vs. the CF/phenolic material used in EFT-1 and also resisted the interlaminar cracking that plagued that material.

The 3D-MAT solution achieved significantly improved properties vs. the CF/phenolic material used in EFT-1, resisted interlaminar cracking and achieved TRL5 within three years. Source: Jay Feldman, NASA.

The 3D-MAT solution achieved significantly improved properties vs. the CF/phenolic material used in EFT-1, resisted interlaminar cracking and achieved TRL5 within three years. Source: Jay Feldman, NASA.

SDC has now delivered 31 compression pads to NASA for use on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and also in further TPS solutions development. EM-1, which is the second flight test and first time all Orion systems will be operational, is currently scheduled for 2018, but must undergo significant testing first. A crewed Orion atop the SLS will launch from a newly refurbished Kennedy Space Center in 2023, making it the first fully integrated mission of NASA’s deep space program.
Feldman considers 3D-MAT an innovative success, reaching TRL5 in just three years: “We went from concept to built flight hardware in that short timeframe.” He adds that the Orion team is so happy with the material’s performance that it is extending use of the 3D quartz/CE composite to various parts of the vehicle back-shell. Meanwhile, Feldman and his team are continuing to look at how 3D composites can be used to provide other TPS solutions. One example is the Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology (HEEET) for Planetary Entry Probes project, which tailors the preform to achieve a higher-density surface layer and lower-density insulating layer made with blended carbon/phenolic yarns.

 

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*Source: CompositesWorld.com

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NASA Selects Proposals to Build Better Solar Technologies for Deep Space Missions

JUNO artist concept

Juno Artist Concept Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program has selected four proposals to develop solar array technologies that will aid spacecraft in exploring destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

NASA’s future deep space missions will require solar arrays that can operate in high-radiation and low-temperature environments. Developing a new generation of solar power technologies that focuses on these attributes will improve mission performance, increase solar array life, and ultimately may allow solar-powered vehicles to explore deeper into space than ever before.

“These awards will greatly enhance our ability to further develop and enhance LILT (low-intensity low temperature) performance by employing new solar cell designs,” said Lanetra Tate, the GCD program executive in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The ultimate goal of increasing end of life performance and enhanced space power applications will greatly impact how we execute extended missions, especially to the outer planets.”

The four proposals selected for contract negotiations are:

  • Transformational Solar Array for Extreme Environments — Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Maryland
  • Micro-Concentrator Solar Array Technology for Extreme Environments – The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, California
  • Solar Array for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High-Radiation Environments, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
  • Concentrator Solar Power Systems for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High Radiation Game Changing Technology Development — ATK Space Systems of Goleta, California

Thirteen proposals were received from NASA centers, laboratories, research groups, and industry in response to the Extreme Environment Solar Power Appendix to the SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 NASA Research Announcement. Initial contract awards are as much as $400,000, providing awardees with funding for nine months of system design, component testing and analysis.

After completing  the initial nine months, NASA anticipates a second phase, and may select up to two of these technologies to receive up to $1.25 million to develop and test their hardware during the second stage of the project. In the third and final phase of the project, one awardee may be asked to continue the development and deliver scalable system hardware.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the GCD program for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. During the next 18 months, the directorate will release more solicitations with the goal of making significant investments that address high-priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the Game Changing Development Program and cross-cutting space technologies of interest to the agency, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

-end-

Gina Anderson
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1160
gina.n.anderson@nasa.gov

Sasha Ellis
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
757-864-5473
sasha.c.ellis@nasa.gov

 

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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Selects JPL Proposal to Build Better Solar Technology for Deep Space Missions

NASA-JPL-Logo

A proposal by Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of four that has been selected by NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program for developing spacecraft solar array technologies that will aid spacecraft in exploring destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

JPL’s proposal, called Solar Array for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High-Radiation Environments, and the other three related proposals were selected from among 13 projects that responded to NASA’s research announcement for solar arrays that will enable future deep space missions to operate in high-radiation and low-temperature environments.

“These awards will greatly enhance our ability to further develop and enhance LILT [low-intensity low temperature] performance by employing new solar cell designs,” said Lanetra Tate, GCD’s program executive under NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
“The ultimate goal of increasing end of life performance and enhanced space power applications will greatly impact how we execute extended missions, especially to the outer planets.”

The other proposals selected came from John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland; the Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, California; and ATK Space Systems of Goleta, California.

The four proposals will each receive a contract worth up to $400,000 from NASA’s GCD program to cover design, testing and analysis of their solar array projects.

After the initial nine months, NASA anticipates a second phase where two of these technologies would be selected to receive up to $1.25 million for development and testing of hardware.

In the third and final phase of the project, one awardee may be asked to continue the development and deliver scalable system hardware. The ultimate goal is to come up with a new generation of solar power technologies that will improve mission performance, increase solar array life, and ultimately allow solar-powered vehicles to explore deeper into space than ever before.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the GCD program for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the Game Changing Development Program and cross-cutting space technologies of interest to the agency, visit www.nasa.gov/spacetech.

 

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*Source: PasadenaNow.com

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NASA Is Using Virtual Reality at SXSW to Remind People That Its Space Programs Still Exist

NASA wants people to know it hasn't shut down. <span>Credits: Christopher Hein (SXSW Interactive)

NASA wants people to know it hasn’t shut down. Credits: Christopher Heine (SXSW Interactive)

Closing of the shuttle program confused folks by Christopher Heine

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been at South by Southwest Interactive—which ends today—since last weekend, hoping to inform people that, well, the agency has not shut down. Americans evidently have been confused at what the closing of the space shuttle program in 2011 meant to the United States’ larger space exploration plans.

So the organization is in Central Texas to clear things up with virtual reality films and other tactics, explaining how future crewed shuttle missions will indeed happen, but they will be run by NASA’s commercial partners such as Space X and Boeing.
“A lot of people thought when the space shuttle was retired, NASA was going away,” said Kirk Pierce, NASA’s communications strategist for the Space Launch System (SLS). “No, we are now working to go further than we ever have before.”
To get that last message across, Pierce and his team are stationed in a 20-foot-by-30-foot booth in the exhibit hall of the Austin Convention Center. There’s a 30-foot inflatable depiction of the SLS rocket, which will be the most powerful rocket ever built by humans and ready to launch in 2018. The rocket will send an uncrewed capsule around the moon to test life-support programs, avionics, heat shields and re-entry capabilities to eventually clear the way for astronauts to explore the same depths of space.

At NASA’s booth, hundreds of people in the last few days have viewed the agency’s VR pieces on an Oculus Rift. The three-dimensional video has been virtually taking them on a ride to the top of the SLS, which will be more than 300 feet tall when completed.

Also, NASA has Google Cardboard sets for people who want to see a VR clip that features footage from Mars.
It’s NASA’s third straight year at the tech festival, but it’s the first time the company is leveraging virtual reality. The response to the films, Pierce said, “has been great.”

Has VR helped Pierce and his team attract a consistently sizable crowd?
“Well, just being NASA helps,” he said. “And having a 30-foot inflatable rocket helps.”

 

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*Source: AdWeek.com

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NASA Selects Proposals to Build Better Solar Technologies for Deep Space Missions

739997main_SEP_15_full_full

NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program has selected four proposals to develop solar array technologies that will aid spacecraft in exploring destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program has selected four proposals to develop solar array technologies that will aid spacecraft in exploring destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars.

NASA’s future deep space missions will require solar arrays that can operate in high-radiation and low-temperature environments. Developing a new generation of solar power technologies that focuses on these attributes will improve mission performance, increase solar array life, and ultimately may allow solar-powered vehicles to explore deeper into space than ever before.

“These awards will greatly enhance our ability to further develop and enhance LILT (low-intensity low temperature) performance by employing new solar cell designs,” said Lanetra Tate, the GCD program executive in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The ultimate goal of increasing end of life performance and enhanced space power applications will greatly impact how we execute extended missions, especially to the outer planets.”

The four proposals selected for contract negotiations are:

Transformational Solar Array for Extreme Environments — Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory of Laurel, Maryland
Micro-Concentrator Solar Array Technology for Extreme Environments – The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, California
Solar Array for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High-Radiation Environments, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
Concentrator Solar Power Systems for Low-intensity Low Temperature and High Radiation Game Changing Technology Development — ATK Space Systems of Goleta, California
Thirteen proposals were received from NASA centers, laboratories, research groups, and industry in response to the Extreme Environment Solar Power Appendix to the SpaceTech-REDDI-2015 NASA Research Announcement. Initial contract awards are as much as $400,000, providing awardees with funding for nine months of system design, component testing and analysis.

After completing the initial nine months, NASA anticipates a second phase, and may select up to two of these technologies to receive up to $1.25 million to develop and test their hardware during the second stage of the project. In the third and final phase of the project, one awardee may be asked to continue the development and deliver scalable system hardware.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, manages the GCD program for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. During the next 18 months, the directorate will release more solicitations with the goal of making significant investments that address high-priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, the Game Changing Development Program and cross-cutting space technologies of interest to the agency, visit:

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*Source: AltEnergyMag.com

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Cubesats Will Take Over The Skies, Thanks To Electric Propulsion

CubeSats iEPS

The ion Electrospray Propulsion System (iEPS) for Cubesats is made by MIT’s Space Propulsion Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The device is used to maneuver a 10cm cubic satellite in space and will hopefully create a more efficient way to maintain tiny satellites in space. Credits: M. Scott Brauer (NewsWeek)

Nanosats—satellites weighing a few pounds or less—are poised to colonize space. Already, hundreds of these cubes (their usual shape) are launched a year, for research, communication and education. But while their electronics can last years, they usually fall out of orbit in a matter of months, thanks to atmospheric drag.Space propulsion works on the principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction: If you sit on a wheeled chair and throw something one way, you go the other. Most rockets burn fuel and throw the exhaust out the back, making the rocket go forward. Another option is electric propulsion, which uses electromagnetic fields to accelerate charged particles out the back. But conventional electric thrusters are bulky, and when made very small, they produce a lot of extra heat, rendering them inefficient and likely to corrode. So existing options are not ideal for those hundreds of cubesats we send up into space every year.

A small satellite levitates in a vacuum chamber used to test thruster design in the Space Propulsion Lab at MIT.

A small satellite levitates in a vacuum chamber used to test thruster design in the Space Propulsion Lab at MIT. The thrusters are about the size of a single die cube and contain enough fuel to power the thrusters for a year in space.Credits: M. Scott Brauer (NewsWeek)

Paulo Lozano, an astronautical engineer, and his team at MIT’s Space Propulsion Laboratory have come up with a solution: the ion electrospray propulsion system (iEPS). The propulsion unit looks nothing like a rocket engine. It’s more like a panel. On the thrust side is a charged metal grid, powered by battery. Behind it is a gap, then a membrane, then the fuel, which is a liquid salt that is essentially a soup of ions. The grid generates an electric field, pulling ions toward it, where they fly right through its holes and out the back. A specially shaped membrane makes the iEPS work: It’s composed of a porous nickel insulator, and it’s about the size of a fingernail, with hundreds of sharp points. Picture a tiny circus tent made of cheesecloth. The ions collect at the tips and form little cones, from which they can more easily accelerate through the electric field.The ions don’t need to be heated like regular rocket fuel, so the whole thruster remains cool to the touch. Rockets using this tech could be made of plastic. The efficiency and small size of an iEPS system means they can keep small satellites orbiting much longer, and even push objects beyond orbit.Former members of Lozano’s lab have started a company, Accion Systems, with prototype iEPS units being delivered later this month and final products next year. These blinking Rubik’s Cubes could have the potential to change the shape of the space race; Natalya Brikner, CEO of Accion, says the affordability of iEPS “makes space accessible to new industries, emerging markets and developing countries.”

 
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*Source: NewsWeek

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Case Study: NASA/Boeing composite launch vehicle fuel tank scores firsts

CCTD Food Drawing
 
Subscale 5.5-m diameter cryogenic tank demonstrator with innovative fluted-core skirt is formed via robotic AFP and cured out of the autoclave.

For more than 50 years, heavy metal cryogenic tanks have carried the liquid hydrogen (LH2) and oxygen necessary to launch vehicles into space. But in a joint effort, NASA and The Boeing Co. (Chicago, IL, US) have designed, fabricated and tested a composite cryotank that, if scaled up to current space launch system dimensions, would weigh 30% less and cost 25% less than the best aluminum-lithium cryotanks used today, and could warrant transport of as much as 1,400 kg of additional payload to low-Earth orbit and beyond.

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*Source: CompositesWorld.com

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NASA Tests Inflatable Heat Shield Technology for Deep Space Missions

 

Before NASA uses its new inflatable technology for slowing spacecraft that are entering the atmospheres of other planets, it will first need to be packed into the tight confines of a rocket.

Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, recently put the technology to the test by packing a 9-foot diameter donut-shaped test article, also known as a torus, to simulate what would happen before a space mission.

Called the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or HIAD, it works like a parachute, using the drag of a planet’s atmosphere to slow the space vehicle as it descends toward the surface. Slowing the spacecraft protects it from the intense heat of atmospheric entry, and allows it to land more softly.

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*Source: NASA.gov

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Game Changing Space Travel: HRL is developing ultralight materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures

microlattice

MALIBU, Calif. October 5, 2015 — HRL Laboratories, LLC announced today that it will develop new ultra-lightweight materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures under NASA’s Game Changing Development Program. These new materials can enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft for deep space exploration by 40 percent and are necessary for the journey to Mars and beyond.

The focus of HRL’s effort is to develop ultralight sandwich panels based on our ultra-light lattice core materials. Attaching thin, stiff facesheets to the top and bottom surfaces of a relatively thick, lightweight core makes such structures. Sandwich structures provide high torsional and bending rigidity at low weight and have become the standard for lightweight design in the aerospace industry. While foam and honeycomb cores are used currently, additional weight savings and performance increases are sought from advanced cores.

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Source*: HRL.com

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NASA counting on humanoid robots for deep space exploration

Valkyrie Robot 4

PHOTO DATE: 12-12-13 | LOCATION: Bldg. 32B – Valkyrie Lab | SUBJECT: High quality, production photos of Valkyrie Robot for PAO | PHOTOGRAPHERS: BILL STAFFORD, JAMES BLAIR, REGAN GEESEMAN

As humanity moves outward into space, it will need to be prepared for risky and extremely hazardous environments such as those which crewed missions to Mars and asteroids will encounter. Having fully-operational robotic help ready to assist in dangerous tasks could be critical during long-duration missions beyond Earth. NASA is seriously considering this matter and it could usher in an age of new humanoid robots. “NASA is counting on robots to setup and care for deep space exploration facilities and equipment pre-deployed ahead of astronauts. Robots are also excellent precursors for conducting science missions ahead of human exploration,” Sasha Congiu Ellis of NASA’s Langley Research Center, told Astrowatch.net. That’s why the agency is developing a six-foot-tall humanoid robot called “R5”. which was previously known as “Valkyrie”. The mechanoid weighs in at about 290 lbs. (292 kg). It was initially designed for use during disaster-relief missions. In November of 2015, NASA provided two R5 robots to university groups competing in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC). One robot is being tested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) located in Cambridge, Massachusetts under its Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments program. The second android was given to the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts for its Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge.

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*Source: SpaceFlightInsider.com

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NASA Edge video “A Real Life C3PO”

 

A local TV station in Santa Clara, Calif., scvTV, features the NASA Edge video interview of GCD Program Manager Steve Gaddis and Human Robotic Systems Project Manager Bill Bluethmann on game changing robotics technologies.

To see the video and/or read the interview transcript, click here.

Source*: SCTV.com

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Will 2016 Be the Year Elon Musk Reveals his Mars Colonial Transporter Plans?

SpaceX Wants to go to Mars

There are several space stories we’re anticipating for 2016 but one story might appear — to some — to belong in the realm of science fiction: sometime in the coming year Elon Musk will likely reveal his plans for colonizing Mars.

Early in 2015, Musk hinted that he would be publicly disclosing his strategies for the Mars Colonial Transport system sometime in late 2015, but then later said the announcement would come in 2016.

“The Mars transport system will be a completely new architecture,” Musk said during a Reddit AMA in January 2015, replying to a question about the development of MCT. “[I] am hoping to present that towards the end of this year. Good thing we didn’t do it sooner, as we have learned a huge amount from Falcon and Dragon.”

 
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Source*: UniverseToday.com

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This Metal Is 99.9 Percent Air

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The picture, above, of a metal grid sitting on the head of a dandelion without disturbing a single feathery tuft may look Photoshopped. But it’s not. It’s a real photograph of one of the more interesting developments in recent materials science—a metal “microlattice” that’s 100 times lighter than Styrofoam.

“It’s basically 99.9 percent air,” says Sophia Yang, a researcher at HRL Laboratories, where the microlattice was invented.

To make the metal microlattice, scientists begin with a polymer structure. This structure is created by shining ultraviolet (UV) light through a filter onto liquid polymer. The process forms a hardened 3D structure almost instantly. Depending on the chemical makeup of the polymer, the resulting structure could be soft or rigid, light or heavy. These microlattice structures have a variety of potential uses themselves—a soft polymer microlattice might be useful for creating comfortable but extremely protective bike helmets, for example.

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Source*: SmithsonianMag.com

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NASA Awards Two Robots to University Groups for R&D Upgrades

R5

Humanoid robots will be helpful to astronauts on our journey to Mars, so NASA has awarded prototypes to two universities for advanced research and development work.

NASA is interested in humanoid robots because they can help or even take the place of astronauts working in extreme space environments. Robots, like NASA’s R5, could be used in future NASA missions either as precursor robots performing mission tasks before humans arrive or as human-assistive robots actively collaborating with the human crew. R5 initially was designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, however, its main goal is to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain — deep space exploration.

“Advances in robotics, including human-robotic collaboration, are critical to developing the capabilities required for our journey to Mars,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are excited to engage these university research groups to help NASA with this next big step in robotics technology development.”

The two university proposals selected are:

Robust Autonomy for Extreme Space Environments: Hosting R5 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, led by principal investigator Russ Tedrake
Accessible Testing on Humanoid-Robot-R5 and Evaluation of NASA Administered (ATHENA) Space Robotics Challenge — Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, led by principal investigator Taskin Padir

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Source*: NASA.gov

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WFIRST-AFTA: Groundbreaking Space Observatory to Image Exoplanets and Tackle a Universe of Questions

STMD WFIRST-AFTA

Artistic view of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) space observatory. Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

We all want the ability to peer into the future.

And that’s exactly the focus of NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) – a mission concept to answer vital questions in both exoplanet detection and dark energy research.

The powerful role that spaceborne telescopes can play in the future was underscored by a seminal study in 2010 called New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, written by the U.S. National Research Council. That study, which laid out a blueprint for ground- and space-based astronomy and astrophysics for the decade of the 2010’s, rated WFIRST as the top-priority large-scale mission.
 

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*Source: NASA.gov

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How Will We Get Off Mars?

NASA engineers will need to design a spacecraft able to survive the red planet’s harsh climate, as recently depicted in The Martian. Credits: Twentieth Century Fox

NASA engineers will need to design a spacecraft able to survive the red planet’s harsh climate, as recently depicted in The Martian. Credits: Twentieth Century Fox

When NASA engineers look at Mars, they see a planet-sized Venus flytrap.

It lures us with the promise of scientific discovery—but the moment we land there, gravity and a harsh climate will conspire to keep us stuck on the surface.

And that’s not an option. If The Martian holds one lesson for real-life space exploration, it’s that the public won’t stand for spending billions of dollars only to leave astronauts stranded on another world. The most crucial part of any NASA plan for visiting the red planet, arguably, is getting off it.

The spacecraft that NASA would build to get the job done, the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), represents a formidable engineering challenge. When fully loaded with fuel, it’s too heavy to launch from Earth and land safely on Mars.

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*Source: National Geographic

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Space Technologies Receiving Test Drive with Oct. 6 Sounding Rocket Launch

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Before new technologies are used in spacecraft they need to be thoroughly tested. Although ground tests are often acceptable, some technologies need a “test drive” before being integrated into space vehicles.

Suborbital rockets, also called sounding rockets, are valuable tools in qualifying technologies for flight and providing the test drive that is needed.

NASA will flight test a modified Black Brant sounding rocket motor, launch vehicle and spacecraft systems and sub-payload ejection technologies during a suborbital mission between 7 and 9 p.m. EDT, Oct. 6, from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The launch and vapor cloud releases, as part of the sub-payload ejection tests, may be seen by residents in the mid-Atlantic region. The launch window runs October 6 through 12.

The flight’s primary objective is to characterize the reformulated Black Brant motor performance in a two-stage configuration.

“The flight also provides an opportunity to test new technologies being developed for space missions and science conducted using sounding rockets,” said Cathy Hesh, technology manager in the Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops.

 

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*Source: NASA.gov

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The People of Space Tech: GCD’s Daniel Yoo

DanielYoo1

At 26 years old, Daniel Yoo is one of the youngest team members working in the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. And he is demonstrating that age is immaterial when it comes to knowledge and capability.

Yoo, a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, has supported GCD for more than two years. He specializes in program integration support, sometimes referred to as data engineering. Internally, Yoo is the go-to guy for program data. He keeps track of the program’s database, which contains information about almost every aspect of the GCD technology portfolio.

 
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*Source: NASA

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Astrobusybee: The crew of the space station will soon be getting a new factotum

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IT is not just on Earth that drones have uses (see article). Three experimental ones, 22cm across and known as Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES (even though they are actually truncated rhombic dodecahedrons), have been buzzing around the International Space Station since 2006 (see picture above). Now, a new and more advanced version, the Astrobee, is being designed at the Ames Research Centre, a NASA laboratory in Mountain View, California.

The Astrobee, which is scheduled for deployment in 2017, eschews geometric complication: it is a simple, 30cm cube. But it is otherwise a more complex beast than its predecessors. SPHERES can be used only in a designated area of the station, and they rely on beacons to know where they are. The Astrobee, by contrast, will use computer vision to orient itself and to navigate around.

 
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*Source: The Economist

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NASA Seeks Big Ideas from Students for Inflatable Heat Shield Technology

HIAD

15-189cNASA is giving university and college students an opportunity to be part of the agency’s journey to Mars with the Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking innovative ideas for generating lift using inflatable spacecraft heat shields or hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator (HIAD) technology.

“NASA is currently developing and flight testing HIADs — a new class of relatively lightweight deployable aeroshells that could safely deliver more than 22 tons to the surface of Mars,” said Steve Gaddis, GCD manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “A crewed spacecraft landing on Mars would weigh between 15 and 30 tons.”

Download Flyer

 
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Robotic Manufacturing System Will Build Biggest Composite Rocket Parts Ever Made

robotic-manufacturing

Experts explain how a new robotic composite fiber placement system will be used to build large space structures for space vehicles.

Lightweight composites have the potential to increase the amount of payload that can be carried by a rocket along with lowering its total production cost. The robotic system is part of the Composites Technology Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

 
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*Source: SpaceRef

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NASA Is Testing Next-Generation Fire Shelters at a Burn Site In Northern Canada

NASA-fire-shelter-systemIn the summer of 2013, 19 firefighters died fighting a wildfire in Yarnell Hill, Arizona, their emergency fire protection shelters unable to withstand the extreme 2,000℉ heat. In the aftermath of the tragedy, two NASA employees wondered if their work on advanced thermal materials could have helped.

This January, NASA reached an agreement with the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to test prototype fire shelters made from the space agency’s next-generation thermal protection systems (TPM) materials—intended, initially, to protect future spacecraft upon re-entry (in fact, a first generation of the material has already been tested on the agency’s third Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment vehicle, IRVE-3).

Not unlike a spacecraft tearing through the atmosphere, NASA’s hope is that its material will be able to weather a wildfire’s blazing heat—saving lives in the process—unlike any emergency shelter before.

These prototype shelters were tested for the first time in late June, when NASA’s Langley Research Center, University of Alberta adjunct professor :Mark Ackerman, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service travelled to Fort Providence in Canada’s Northwest territories to conduct series of controlled outdoor burns.

Though the results thus far are preliminary, “it does appear that there is a potential solution here that would improve the fire protection of these shelters for the next generation,” said Anthony Calomino, NASA lead on flexible TPS development.

 
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Source*: Motherboard.Vice.com

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NASA EDGE: Nanotechnology

 
 
NASA EDGE takes a close look at how NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program Office is exploring nanotechnology. GCD Program Manager, Steve Gaddis, and his team highlight how this technology is being used in sensors and various materials. It is high risk, high reward.

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MIT SPL delivers the Scalable ion Electrospray Propulsion System (S-iEPS) for CubeSats to NASA

IEPS
Cambridge MA, July 2, 2015–The Space Propulsion Laboratory (SPL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has delivered three fully integrated S-iEPS units to NASA today. The S-iEPS is a highly efficient compact thruster system for nano-satellites, which will enable challenging missions even for the small, but increasingly popular, 1-liter, 1-kilogram Cubesats. The S-iEPS features eight MEMS-based ion emitter arrays, containing thousands of microtips packed in 8 square centimeters of active emission area. With a total power consumption of less than 1.5 watts, the propulsion system delivers a thrust of 100 microNewtons at a specific impulse of 1200 seconds, which is sufficient to provide ample maneuverability to small satellites. The thrusters feature non-reactive ionic salt propellants and a design without moving parts or pressurization, relying on capillary forces alone. Each propulsion system weighs about 100 grams and fits in a 9 x 9.6 x 2.1 cm envelope (about 0.2U), including propellant and power and control electronics.
The S-iEPS system has been developed and extensively characterized in the frame of the Game Changing Development Program of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Propulsion modules have undergone independent thrust measurements at MIT and our partners at The Aerospace Corporation and NASA Glenn Research Center.

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*Source: Space Propulsion Laboratory (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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NASA Looks to University Robotics Groups to Advance Latest Humanoid Robot

Human-Robotic Systems (HRS)
Valkyrie Robot

Are you ready for that upgrade? NASA’s R5 robot is and the agency is looking for help.

R5 is a new humanoid robot initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers; however, its main goal is to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain – deep space exploration.

For that, NASA is looking to members of the robotics community.

Through a competitive selection process, NASA will award two R5 robots to university groups competing in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) this month. Recipients will have possession of the robots for two years; receive up to $250,000; and have access to onsite and virtual technical support from NASA.

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Source*: NASA.gov

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NASA Technology May Help Protect Wildland Firefighters

CHIEFS Material

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to see if flexible thermal protection system technology being developed for space entry vehicles could also work to protect firefighters caught in a raging forest fire.
Credits: NASA

NASA research into flexible, high-temperature space materials may some day improve personal fire shelter systems and help wildland firefighters better survive dangerous wildfires.

NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to see if flexible thermal protection system technology being developed for space entry vehicles could also work to protect firefighters caught in a raging forest fire.

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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Seeks Public’s Ideas for Airlock Hatches in Space

Flexible Seal Challenge

Space is hard.

There’s no air, there’s radiation, and you can’t get in and out of your International Space Station module like it was a minivan.

There are complexities related to the door or hatch operations, and there is limited hatch access to space. This makes extra-vehicular activities (EVA) time consuming and a physical challenge for astronauts who need to work outside their spacecraft, conduct experiments and periodically inspect their orbiting home.

Plus, current space hatch technology means fairly massive, hard, metallic, rigid-point-to-rigid-point structures with no flexibility, and they weigh a lot.

But what if you could save all that mass and volume? What if there was something light and flexible – a hatch you could pack down like a suitcase and ultimately make for an easier EVA?

To answer those questions, NASA needs your ideas.

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Source*: NASA.gov

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Busek Delivers First Miniature Electrospray Thrusters to NASA

busek

NATICK, MA, JUNE 1, 2015 Today satellite propulsion firm Busek Co. Inc. confirmed the shipment of its first miniature electrospray small satellite thrusters to NASA. The modular, 100 micronewton-class thrusters enable new, highly efficient CubeSat maneuvers as well as fine position control for larger spacecraft. The units were designed and manufactured by Busek for NASA’s Game Changing Development Program in the Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the crosscutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

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*Source: Busek.com

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Ion Electrospray Engines Could Take Cubesats to the Moon and Beyond

ieps1-1431975867233 Photo Credit: MIT

CubeSats are one of the cheapest, most efficient ways to get to space. Each CubeSat unit measures just 10 centimeters on a side, which is usually enough room for solar panels, communications equipment, and a small science payload. It isn’t enough room for an engine, and generally, most CubeSats are dumped into orbit and left to fend for themselves, tumbling aimlessly until drag pulls them to earth after a few months or so. This makes them cheap for a spacecraft (usually a little over $100,000 each including launch costs), but places rather severe limits on what they’re able to accomplish.

In 2013, NASA funded three different groups to develop small, highly efficient propulsion systems specifically designed to enable spacecraft like CubeSats to orient themselves, maneuver, and even change their own orbits. The propulsion technology that NASA is interested in is called ion electrospray, and MIT’s prototype is a modular, eight-thruster unit just 21 millimeters thick that can change the velocity of a CubeSat by a staggering 100 meters per second.

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*Source: Spectrum.IEEE.org

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NASA Announces Opportunities to Advance ‘Tipping Point’ and Emerging Space Technologies

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NASA announced Thursday two opportunities for public-private partnerships to achieve the agency’s goals of expanding capabilities and opportunities in space. Through both solicitations, NASA is seeking industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA missions.

“These solicitations form an increased focus on collaborations with the commercial space sector that not only leverage emerging markets and capabilities to meet NASA’s strategic goals, but also focus on industry needs,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While developing the technology to enable NASA’s next generation of science and human exploration missions, we will grow the economy and strengthen the nation’s economic competitiveness.”

Through the solicitation titled “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies,” NASA seeks to advance selected technologies with the goal of enabling private industry to develop and qualify them for market without further government investment.

A technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration of its capabilities will result in a significant advancement of the technology’s maturation, high likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and significant improvement in the ability to successfully bring the technology to market. These technologies also should bring substantial benefit to both the commercial and government sectors on completion.

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Source*: NASA.gov

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3D Animations Provide New Insights into Thermal Protection Materials

French-fry forest: Frame from an animation of carbon fiber felt material, generated from microtomography scans and custom ray-tracing software. The image illuminates details in the intricate fiber structures that have never been seen before. The flexible felt (made up of 10% carbon fibers and 90% air) is just one of many materials being analyzed for stronger and safer materials to protect future spacecraft. Image/video credit: Tim Sandstrom, NASA Ames

French-fry forest: Frame from an animation of carbon fiber felt material, generated from microtomography scans and custom ray-tracing software. The image illuminates details in the intricate fiber structures that have never been seen before. The flexible felt (made up of 10% carbon fibers and 90% air) is just one of many materials being analyzed for stronger and safer materials to protect future spacecraft. Image/video credit: Tim Sandstrom, NASA Ames

NASA space exploration vehicles blazing through the atmosphere to return to Earth—or touch down on other planets—are shielded by specially designed and developed thermal protection materials that can withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees F.

Researchers at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility are exploring 3D images and animations of newly developed thermal protection system (TPS) materials being developed in support of future missions. For the first time, 3D complex structures in the TPS fibers are being revealed at the microscale—one-tenth the thickness of a human hair. Scientists Francesco Panerai, NASA visiting scientist from the University of Kentucky, and Nagi N. Mansour, chief of the NAS Division’s Fundamental Modeling & Simulation Branch, are collaborating with the Hypersonic Entry, Descent, and Landing team at NASA’s Ames Research Center to model, understand, and predict the durability and strength of new materials that will protect future spacecraft heading beyond low Earth orbit to Mars and other space exploration destinations. The work supports NASA’s Space Technology Game-Changing Development Program.

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*Source: NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division

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Advances In Lightweight Composite Tanks For Launchers

Northrop Grumman is preparing to static-test this two-segment composite propellant tank for liquid oxygen and kerosene as part of a NASA engineering study aimed at advanced boosters for the Space Launch System

Northrop Grumman is preparing to static-test this two-segment composite propellant tank for liquid oxygen and kerosene as part of a NASA engineering study aimed at advanced boosters for the Space Launch System. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Lightweight composite structures, manufactured “out of autoclave” without pressurized curing, are a major goal in NASA’s latest technology road map, but the shape of the tanks is bringing a degree of difficulty to this process.

Engineers working on two different NASA-backed composite cryogenic tank demonstrations at Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, say strong composite structures can be produced with heat-curing alone, as long as there are open edges that can vent water vapor and other gases that would otherwise create voids when the composite material hardens. In a cylindrical launch-vehicle propellant tank with a dome on the end, those edges do not exist.

“During cure, your volatiles, your entrapped air, all these things that make porosity or voids, travel down those fiber channels to the edges,” says Justin Jackson, who was project engineer on the 5.5-meter (18-ft.) composite liquid-hydrogen tank tested at the NASA field center near Huntsville. “So, by trapping off those edges, all of that now has to go through the thickness of the laminate. It is just a more torturous path. You don’t get it out as efficiently as you would traversing down the fiber.”

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*Source: AviationWeek.com

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NASA’s Multi-Purpose NICER/SEXTANT Mission on Track for 2016 Launch

Technicians assemble a new 25-foot test facility, equipped with a one-meter parabolic optical mirror, which will be used to align NICER/SEXTANT’s 56 optics and detectors. Credits: NASA

Technicians assemble a new 25-foot test facility, equipped with a one-meter parabolic optical mirror, which will be used to align NICER/SEXTANT’s 56 optics and detectors. Credits: NASA

NASA mission that embodies the virtues of faster, less expensive access to space has sailed past all major development milestones and is scheduled to be delivered to Cape Canaveral on time for its October 2016 launch.

“We’re on schedule to deliver the instrument for integration aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket this time next year,” said Keith Gendreau, the principal investigator of the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer/Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (NICER/SEXTANT).

“We’re on schedule to deliver the instrument for integration aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket this time next year,” said Keith Gendreau, the principal investigator of the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer/Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (NICER/SEXTANT).

NICER/SEXTANT, which NASA’s Science Mission Directorate selected in 2013 as its next Explorer Mission of Opportunity, is a one-of-a-kind investigation that not only will gather important scientific data, but also demonstrate advanced navigation technologies — all from a relatively low-cost instrument that takes advantage of an already-existing platform, the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS orbit that ranges between 51.6 degrees north and south latitudes will give the instrument a good view of the cosmos to accomplish both its scientific and technology objectives.

The agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate also is supporting the development of the NICER/SEXTANT instrument, which Gendreau is developing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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*Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Selects Proposals for Ultra-Lightweight Materials for Journey to Mars and Beyond

Journey to Mars
Space Technology NASA Banner

NASA has selected three proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight (ULW) materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures. The proposals will mature advanced technologies that will enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40 percent for deep space exploration.

“Lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures are one of NASA’s top focus areas capable of having the greatest impact on future NASA missions in human and robotic exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.”

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NASA plays show-and-tell on the Hill

If human beings are going to colonize Mars, we’re going to need a lot of tools. Can NASA make those tools?

Not without the help of Congress.

NASA reps, accompanied by academics and experts from the aerospace industry, took to the halls of Congress to pitch lawmakers on the importance of their work and showcase their technological progress during the fourth annual NASA Technology Day on the Hill this week.

The big focus: Mars.

*Source: FCW.com

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First Ever “Ladies in the Lab” Event Held at UVa

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (NEWSPLEX) — The first ever Ladies in the Lab workshop took place on UVa grounds Sunday.

Middle and high school girls were invited from local school districts to take part in 15 interactive exhibits run by more than 70 volunteers from several female UVa engineering groups as well as NASA and Capital One.

UVa third-years, Grace Wusk and Trisha Hajela, were behind the eventand explained the importance of encouraging girls to consider pursuing careers in STEM fields.

“In middle and high school, a lot of girls fork off and think math and science is hard,” said Hajela. “Just showing them that it’s not and there are a lot female engineers who love what they do and love innovation is just something that we want to show them.”

“We think females offer a unique prospective to the technical field,” said Wusk. “We really want to encourage younger girls to pursue those futures.”

*Source: Newsplex.com

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NASA achieves aerospace 3-D printing milestone with assist from Glenn Research Center

Inside the combustion chamber

Inside the combustion chamber, propellant burns at more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. To prevent melting, hydrogen at temperatures less than 100 degrees above absolute zero circulates in more than 200 intricately carved cooling channels Cooling inlets are visible along the top rim of the chamber. Credits: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

NASA has achieved “a milestone for aerospace 3-D printing,” with help from a copper alloy developed at NASA Glenn Research Center, according to a news release from the space agency.

NASA used a 3-D printer to build a rocket engine liner that should be able to endure extreme heat and cold.

Ridiculously extreme: The inside of the liner is designed to withstand temperatures exceeding 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit; meanwhile, it will be cooled with gases in the -280 degree range, the release stated.

That looks good on paper, but will it be able to take that kind of punishment this summer, when it is put to the test at NASA’s Langley Research Center? There’s no way to be sure, but Glenn researchers studied the new GRCo-84 alloy extensively to make sure it could be used to build quality parts when printed in layers, by a 3-D printer, the release stated.

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*Source: CrainsCleveland.com

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NASA 3D Prints the World’s First Full-Scale Copper Rocket Engine Part

Day in and day out, we see new types of technologies emerge from the 3D printing space, as well as different uses which test the feasibility and potential that 3D printing has within the fields of manufacturing. One organization which is really beginning to embrace 3D printing, is NASA. Whether it is 3D printing rocket parts or sending 3D printers to the International Space Station, NASA gets it — 3D printing is the future of manufacturing. It’s easy to argue this point when someone off of the street comes up to you and says that 3D printing will revolutionize the world, but when some of the most brilliant minds in the world prove it in a scientific lab, that’s when we should all start to take note.

*Source: 3DPrint.com

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NASA Selects Proposals for Ultra-Lightweight Materials for Journey to Mars and Beyond

NASA has selected three proposals to develop and manufacture ultra-lightweight (ULW) materials for future aerospace vehicles and structures. The proposals will mature advanced technologies that will enable NASA to reduce the mass of spacecraft by 40 percent for deep space exploration.

“Lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures are one of NASA’s top focus areas capable of having the greatest impact on future NASA missions in human and robotic exploration,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. “These advanced technologies are necessary for us to be able to launch stronger, yet lighter, spacecraft and components as we look to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.”

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KSC team delves into wearable tech in space

KSC Delves in Wearable Tech

In the image above,  NASA engineers Delvin VanNorman, Michael McDonough, Kelvin Ruiz, David Miranda and Allan Villorin in the lab experimenting with Epson and Vuzix smart glasses. (Photo: Malcolm Denemark/FLORIDA TODAY)

On his “smart” watch, David Miranda checks e-mail and appointments, dictates text messages and performs Google searches, among other tasks.

The accessory makes the Kennedy Space Center engineer an early adopter of “wearable technology” that one leading consumer electronics company predicts will emerge as a hot workplace trend this year .

But in “wearables” like the LG watch or Google Glass eye wear, Miranda and a group of colleagues see the potential for something more visionary: helping KSC workers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, and maybe someday also astronaut explorers.

“Whether they’re walking on the Martian surface or on an asteroid, this could give them a lot of critical information to help them be successful,” said Miranda, 31, of Orlando.

Miranda leads an eight-person team of young engineers who this month are beginning a two-year project to develop a prototype headset that works something like a Google Glass for space operations.


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Source*: FloridaToday.com

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Steve Jurczyk, Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA

Last Monday (March 9, 2015) was the first day on the job for Steve Jurczyk. He was recently appointed as the associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA. He served as the deputy center director before this new assignment. He joined Tom Temin on the Federal Drive with more on what the center does, and what he hopes it will accomplish under his tenure.

Federal News Radio interviewed Steve about his new appointment. Listen to the interview by clicking here (+)

*Source: FederalNewsRadio.com

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Scientists Develop Electrocatalysts That Could Aid Long-Term Space Exploration

Although modern space exploration discussion now revolves around more long-term journeys, such as future trips to Mars, we still don’t have the technology to safely travel so far from our home planet.

Providing breathable air for passengers is one of the main challenges of a future trip to Mars. However, we haven’t yet figured out how to do that effectively and efficiently. We can’t easily ship oxygen tanks to and from places that are so far away, so we need an efficient way to recycle oxygen while there.

*Source: TechTimes.com

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A Robot That Collapses Under Pressure (In a Good Way)

IF NASA PLANS to send robots to other planets, it’s going to need some new designs: ones that are easy to land, easy to move around, and easy to fix. That means they probably won’t look like a bipedal T-1000 chasing the one hope for mankind. They probably won’t even look like the four-legged galloping critters Boston Dynamics is building. Nope. Those robots will look like a hexahedral tent stripped of its fabric.

*Source: Wired.com

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Baton Rouge business could build equipment used by NASA

Kevin Kelly, Mezzo Technologies (Source: WAFB)

Kevin Kelly, Mezzo Technologies (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – The world of car racing and space exploration have something in common, and believe it or not, it is a business in Baton Rouge.The company is Mezzo Technologies, and Monday, NASA officials toured the company that has been building high performance radiators with it’s micro-tube technology for the past five years.

These micro-tube heat exchangers may hold the key to keeping astronauts and all their electronic equipment from overheating in the harsh confines of outer space.

The system is still in the research phase, but things are looking up.

 


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*Source: WAFB.com

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Baton Rouge’s Mezzo Technologies looking beyond racecar tracks to space

Mezzo Technologies in Baton Rouge is looking to the moon and beyond.

The 15-year-old company, which has produced advanced radiators and oil coolers for professional race car teams since 2007, now has an opportunity to work for NASA by developing its microtube heat exchanger for use on the space agency’s planned Orion spacecraft.

“NASA has a vehicle called Orion that will circle the moon,” Kevin Kelly, Mezzo’s president, said Tuesday.

The Orion module, which will be home to astronauts traveling in outer space, is being built by Lockheed Martin at the Michoud facility in New Orleans, where Boeing crews also are working on the Space Launch System, a 70-ton heavy-lift rocket that will propel Orion into space.

Mezzo’s $200,000 Orion research-and-development contract calls for a water-cooled heat exchanger capable of surviving tremendously hot temperatures on the moon’s sunny side and fiercely freezing temperatures on its dark side.

“Our ultimate goal is Mars,” said Ryan Stephan, NASA’s director of game-changing development. Both men spoke during a meeting at Mezzo’s 20,000-square-foot facility at 10246 Mammoth Ave.

*Source: TheAdvocate.com

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Jurczyk Named Head of NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named Steve Jurczyk as the agency’s Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, effective Monday, March 2. The directorate is responsible for innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use on future NASA missions.

Jurczyk has served as Center Director at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, since April of 2014. An accomplished engineer, he previously served as the deputy center director and in other leadership positions at the center prior to his appointment as center director.

“It’s great to have Steve coming aboard to lead the technology and innovation engine of the agency,” said Bolden. “Technology drives exploration and under Steve’s leadership we’ll continue the President’s innovation strategy, positioning NASA and the aerospace community on the cutting-edge, pushing the boundaries of the aerospace with the technical rigor our nation expects of its space program”

Source: NASA.gov

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NASA Picks Small Spacecraft Propulsion Systems for Development

Advanced In-Space Propulsion (AISP)
MEP_Thruster

HAMPTON, Va. — NASA selected three proposals for the development of lightweight micro-thruster propulsion technologies that are small in size but have big potential.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate selected the miniaturized electrospray propulsion technologies to perform stabilization, station keeping and pointing for small spacecraft. NASA hopes these technology demonstrations may lead to similar position control systems for larger spacecraft and satellites as well.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, managed by the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., sponsored this solicitation and will oversee the first phase of this technology development.

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Berks company plays role in mission to Mars

Woven Thermal Protection
From Bally, Pa. to MarsBerks County played host to America’s space program Friday, as NASA’s top boss got a firsthand tour of the factory where components are being made for the nation’s next era of spacecrafts.

“From this day on, the path to Mars goes through Bally, Pennsylvania,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said after completing an hourlong visit at Bally Ribbon Mills.

Bolden, accompanied by Ray Harries, president of Bally Ribbon, was “mesmerized” by components NASA uses that are made by small businesses. They include spacecraft insulation systems, or heat shields, designed to withstand super-hot temperatures as spacecrafts descend from far distances in the universe.

Bolden watched as Bally workers wove high-tech fibers into three-dimensional shields that can withstand temperatures of 4,000 degrees, generated on re-entry by the Orion spacecraft. NASA, among others, is currently building the Apollo-like spacecraft, America’s deep-space ship.

*Source: MCall.com

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The Strange Way Fluids Slosh on the International Space Station

Jan. 30, 2015: The next time you pour yourself a glass of water, pause before you drink it. First, swirl the clear liquid around the glass. Gently slosh it back and forth. Tap the glass on the tabletop, and watch the patterns that form on the surface.

Now imagine the same exercise … in zero gravity. Would the waves and ripples look the same? Would the liquid slosh more, or less? Faster, or slower?

NASA engineers spend a surprising amount of time asking themselves these same questions.

*Source: Science.NASA.gov

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NASA Langley research robot ready to roll

HAMPTON–The seven-ton, two-story robotic arm unveiled by NASA Langley on Monday looks like it belongs on a Transformer.

But ISAAC – which stands for Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites – has nothing to do with sci-fi or alien machines.

The $3 million system – one of just three of its kind in the world, and the only one dedicated to research – turns 3-D computer drawings into precisely made, lightweight, super-strong components suited for spacecraft. It spins parts from spools of carbon fiber blended with epoxy – gliding along a track, reaching, retracting, pivoting, hovering with cyborg agility and efficiency.

*Source: HamptonRoads.com

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NASA Spinoff 2015 Features Space Technology Making Life Better on Earth

NASA technologies are being used to locate underground water in some of the driest places on the Earth, build quieter and more fuel-efficient airplanes, and create shock absorbers that brace buildings in earthquakes.
The 2015 edition of NASA’s annual Spinoff publication highlights these and other technologies whose origins lie in space exploration, but now have broader applications.

“The game-changing technologies NASA develops to push the envelope of space exploration also improve our everyday lives,” said NASA Chief Technologist David Miller. “Spinoff 2015 is filled with stories that show there is more space in our lives than we think.”

Spinoff 2015 tells the story of shock absorbers used during space shuttle launches that are now being used to brace buildings during earthquakes, preventing damage and saving lives. The book also features a NASA-simplified coliform bacteria test that is being used to monitor water quality in rural communities around the world, as well as cabin pressure monitors that alert pilots when oxygen levels are approaching dangerously low levels in their aircraft.

*Source: NASA.gov

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KSC team delves into wearable tech in space

On his “smart” watch, David Miranda checks e-mail and appointments, dictates text messages and performs Google searches, among other tasks.

The accessory makes the Kennedy Space Center engineer an early adopter of “wearable technology” that one leading consumer electronics company predicts will emerge as a hot workplace trend this year .

But in “wearables” like the LG watch or Google Glass eye wear, Miranda and a group of colleagues see the potential for something more visionary: helping KSC workers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, and maybe someday also astronaut explorers.

*Source: FloridaToday.com

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Prof Awarded NASA Grant to Develop Building Blocks for Use in Space Missions

Mechanical engineering Asst. Prof. Christopher Hansen is one of seven young faculty researchers nationwide awarded a NASA Early Career Faculty Space Technology Research Grant. The program is designed to accelerate the development of innovative technologies originating from academia that address high-priority needs for America’s space program as well as other government agencies and the commercial flight industry. Hansen’s grant is worth approximately $579,000 spread over a period of three years.

*Source:UML.edu

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Child’s Toy Design Could Help Humans Get to Mars

HIAD-2

Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child’s toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, engineers have been working to develop an inflatable heat shield that looks a lot like a super-sized version of a stacking ring of doughnuts that infants play with. The engineers believe a lightweight, inflatable heat shield could be deployed to slow the craft to enter a Martian atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

Such an inflatable heat shield could help a spacecraft reach the high-altitude southern plains of Mars and other areas that would otherwise be inaccessible under existing technology. The experts note that rockets alone can’t be used to land a large craft on Mars as can be done on the atmosphereless moon. Parachutes also won’t work for a large spacecraft needed to send humans to Mars, they add.

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*Source: ABC News

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X-Rays: Next-Gen Way to Travel and Talk in Space?

Galaxies

NASA scientists say they have figured out a way to use X-rays to both communicate with long-distance spacecraft, as well as navigate as they sail past the outer limits of the solar system.

They say that using X-rays is faster than existing radio wave communications, can carry more information and won’t be blocked when spacecraft enter a planet’s thick atmosphere.

“While we are using X-ray navigation to guide us to Pluto, we might also use X-ray communication to talk back to Earth,” said Keith Gendreau, principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
 


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Source*: Discovery.com

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