The development, design and build of machinery and fluids that propel or thrust, or are configured to do so, by means of force generated from mechanical, electrical or fluid power or energy.
Iodine Propellant Tank
Sublimable Propellant Source for Iodine-fed Ion Propulsion System
NASAs iodine vapor feed system is based on a mechanism that holds and maintains the solid iodine is contact with a heated surface, in this case the walls of the propellant tank. The mechanism provides a robust and reliable steady-state delivery of sublimated iodine vapor to the ion propulsion system by ensuring good thermal contact between the solid iodine and the tank walls. To date, the technology development effort includes extensive thermal, mechanical and flow modelling together with testing of components and subsystems required to feed iodine propellant to a 200-W Hall thruster. The feed system has been designed to use materials that are resistant to the highly-reactive nature of iodine propellant. Dynamic modeling indicates that the feed system tubing can be built is such a way as to reduce vibrationally-induced stresses that occur during launch. Thermal modeling has been performed to demonstrate that the feed system heater power levels are sufficient to heat the tank and propellant lines to operating temperatures, and sublime the iodine in the storage tank to supply propellant for reliable and long-term operation.
Turbo-electric compressor-generator CAD drawings
Axial Magnetic Flux Airflow Integrated Compressor-Generator-Motor Turbojet
The innovation uses the rotating blades of the compressor section to act as structural support for the generator. Since the compressor is the coolest part of the engine, it will reduce the potential for interference with magnetics and associated curie points of the permanent magnets. The placement of the generator in the cooler part of the engine flowpath (fan or compressor) will also improve the electrical insulation system's degradation and serve to improve overall system lifetime. The configuration proposed by Armstrong's design would be an axial magnetic flux permanent magnet generator or motor. The electrical/mechanical interface could serve to deliver power to the shaft of the turbojet/fan or extract power from the shaft. This axial electromagnetic flux design is more efficient for the combined function of aero-thermal heat transfer and generation of electricity. This is due to the relative amount of available cooling surface area, which has an advantage over radial designs given the total system volumetric aspect ratio of the generator/compressor section. When the system is viewed as a thermodynamic cycle, it is more efficient because it is essentially a regenerative cycle, with the heat of generation being fed back into the cycle instead of being released into the ambient surroundings
SMART Solar Sail
SMART Solar Sail
The SMART solar sail includes a reflective film stretched among nodes of a SMART space frame made partly of nanotubule struts. A microelectromechanical system (MEMS) at each vertex of the frame spools and unspools nanotubule struts between itself and neighboring nodes to vary the shape of the frame. The MEMSs is linked, either wirelessly or by thin wires within the struts, to an evolvable neural software system (ENSS) that controls the MEMSs to reconfigure the sail as needed. The solar sail is highly deformable from an initially highly compressed configuration, yet also capable of enabling very fine maneuvering of the spacecraft by means of small sail-surface deformations. The SMART Solar Sail is connected to the main body of the spacecraft by a SMART multi-tether structure, which includes MEMS actuators like those of the frame plus tethers in the form of longer versions of the struts in the frame.
NASA image captured December 25, 2011. A NASA scientific balloon awaits launch in McMurdo, Antarctica. The balloon, carrying Indiana University's Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope (CREST), was launched on December 25. After a circum-navigational flight around the South Pole, the payload landed on January 5. The CREST payload is one of two scheduled as part of this seasons' annual NASA Antarctic balloon Campaign which is conducted in cooperation with the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs. The campaign's second payload is the University of Arizona's Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO). You can follow the flights at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility's web site at
Standardized Coarse Azimuth Pointing System
The Standardized Coarse Azimuth Pointing System is a system for any balloon-borne platform with a suspended payload that was less than 5,500 lbs. It separates the rotation of the gondola and the payload from the balloon. The rotator utilizes GPS and solar sensors for command orientation of the payload. There are solar sensors at the top of the rotator providing a 360-degree view. A guidance, navigation, and control system commands sensors to look at a specific point. For example, sensors can detect the position of the sun. The sensor command is sent through the avionics packages on board to start the motor and turn the shaft until the sensors send feedback that they are at the commanded position. The rotator holds the payload at that position until commanded otherwise. The rotator is designed to have a 5 arc-minute pointing capability, and it has demonstrated a 1.4 arc-minute accuracy. The motor runs on a 28V battery source. The system is designed to be operational in a thermal range of -80 degrees Celsius to +50 degrees Celsius. The system can also accommodate the option of integrating a slip ring with 20 separate channels for power, DSL link, and AART communications. The Standardized Coarse Azimuth Pointing System features a hollow titanium shaft, 3-D printed solar sensor mounts, 3-D printed avionics package mounts, and a custom motor frame mount. The system also utilizes 3-D printed templates to standardize the assembly of both rotators, so that nonuniform match drilling is not a problem.
High-Voltage Power System for Hybrid Electric Aircraft Propulsion
Glenn's novel system supports the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) strategic plan to leverage advancements in technologies over the next 25 years and beyond, leading to new aircraft configurations with enhanced performance, improved energy efficiency, and reduced CO2 emissions. The electric system is a multi-megawatt micro-grid that converts mechanical energy to electric via generators, and electric energy to mechanical via motor-driven fans. This innovation would use the variation in aircraft throttle settings to produce a high-voltage (20 kilovolts), variable-frequency 9-phase AC distribution system. Using doubly fed electric machines (generator, propulsor, and flywheel) allows for field excitation that can cause variable-frequency or variable speed operation around the commanded throttle setting. The flywheel enables an energy storage system that recovers and reuses energy, while the flywheel slews with the throttle control using the electromagnetic torque produced by the doubly fed electric machine. This design permits both sub-synchronous and super-synchronous operation using limited field excitation power provided through power converters. Finally, the reduced switchgear mass facilitated through the use of a high-frequency AC system, setting-less protection zones, and simplified switches for fault clearance provides enhanced operational capability. This system can be controlled so that fault energy is minimized, preventing collateral damage to aircraft structures even with high voltage distribution. Glenn's innovative system adds performance, efficiency, reliability, and cost savings to cutting-edge hybrid electric technology. This is an early-stage technology requiring additional development, and Glenn welcomes co-development opportunities.
Power Processing Unit (PPU) for Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion
Key subsystems of a scalable PPU for low-power Hall effect electric propulsion have been developed and demonstrated at NASA GRC. The PPU conditions and supplies power to the thruster and propellant flow control (PFC) components. It operates from an input voltage of 24 to 34 VDC to be compatible with typical small spacecraft with 28 V unregulated power systems. The PPU provides fault protection to protect the PPU, thruster, PFC components, and spacecraft. It is scalable to accommodate various power and operational requirements of low-power Hall effect thrusters. An important subsystem of a PPU is the discharge supply, which processes up to 95% of the power in the PPU and must process high voltage to accelerate thrust generating plasma. Each discharge power module in this PPU design is capable of processing up to 500 W of power and output up to 400 VDC. A full-bridge topology operating at switching frequency 50 kHz is used with a lightweight foil transformer. Two or more modules can operate in parallel to scale up the discharge power as required. Output voltage and current regulation controls allow for any of the common thruster start-up modes (hard, soft or glow).
Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion (SSEP) Technology Suite
Innovators at GRC have developed a suite of SSEP technologies for small, low-power spacecraft using Hall effect thrusters including a high propellant throughput small spacecraft electric propulsion thruster (LEW-TOPS-158), a power processing unit for SSEP (LEW-TOPS-157), an anode manifold plug for Hall effect thrusters (LEW-TOPS-159), and additional Hall effect technologies (LEW-TOPS-34). See the Additional Information section at the bottom of the page for more information on each technology suite component. GRC is making these technologies available to U.S. companies through a no-cost*, non-exclusive license agreement and companion Space Act Agreement. Licensees may receive a comprehensive package of design and process documents including issued and pending patents, design drawings, materials specifications, and test data. Licensees will assist in defining system requirements and creating new platforms to use the SSEP technologies. This streamlined, collaborative commercialization strategy helps satisfy NASA exploration and science mission requirements while improving U.S. competitiveness in the global electric propulsion market and improving the success of new electric propulsion developments. Working alongside our licensees, GRC hopes to generate a compendium of SSEP knowledge as a living document, maintained by all users in a consortia-like environment. *Although the license and Space Act Agreement are no cost to the licensees, licensees would be responsible for setting up and maintaining an EAR restricted file sharing space.
Anode Manifold Plug for Hall Effect Thrusters
Flow-restricting features in a Hall thruster anode manifold assembly, typically precision manufactured orifices, can contribute to significant flow non-uniformity if tolerances on the features are not properly controlled. Non-uniformity in flow distribution negatively impacts thruster performance. The anode assembly is usually a complex and expensive assembly to manufacture. Removing the flow restricting elements from the anode manifold structure in favor of modular insertable subcomponents (i.e., plugs) enables the use of more reliable and repeatable precision manufacturing techniques. The resulting components can be tested, characterized, and sorted for acceptance before being installed into the larger anode assembly (i.e., quality control can be performed at the subcomponent level). This may lead to increased performance and yield rate of the final assembly. The flow restrictor plugs can be made in many different ways. The most basic flow restrictor takes the form of a precision hole machined into a cylinder, where the cylinder is then press fit into a hole drilled into the anode base. Alternate embodiments of the flow restrictor include precision machined nozzles, laminar flow elements, or sintered porous metal elements. The flow restrictor can also be made from a different material than the anode base, such as a precision ruby orifice contained in a metal carrier which is installed in a metal anode base. The plugs can be installed in a variety of ways, all of which create hermetic seals. Installation can include a press fit relying on plastic deformation or threading the plug component into the anode base. Welding on the top surface of the anode base can also be done to provide a robust hermetic seal.
Front Image
High Propellant Throughput Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion Thruster
NASAs High Propellant Throughput Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion thruster offers a propellant throughput capability of greater than 120 kg with a nominal thruster efficiency greater than 50%. The new thruster design combines heritage Hall thruster component design approaches with recent NASA GRC advancements in the areas of advanced magnetic circuit design, robust propellant manifolds, and center mounted cathodes. Prototypes of the High Propellant Throughput Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion thruster have been fabricated and proof-of-concept has been demonstrated. A significant advancement in the High Propellant Throughput Small Spacecraft Electric Propulsion thruster is NASA's optimized magnetically shielded (OMS) field topology. The new OMS configuration reduces discharge channel erosion rates compared to conventional Hall thrusters, while reducing front pole cover erosion rates compared to traditional magnetically shielded Hall thrusters. This system also includes a largely unibody structure to reduce fabrication cost, increase strength, and optimize thermal management. A coupling plate between the high voltage discharge channel and low voltage thruster body allows more efficient thruster assembly and verification processes. Other design advancements further simplify assembly, improve robustness, and optimize performance.
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