Would Your Cell Phone Work In Space?

Dr. Kathleen Morse poses this question to high school students across the U.S. as part of the CASIS and NASA sponsored Digital Learning Network program.

During the chat, ask Dr. Morse your question by sending it via email todlinfochannel@gmail.com or tweet the question with #askDLN.

The hourlong event will be webcast on the NASA DLiNfo Channel on March 5, 2014, at 2 p.m. EST.

For more information and to view the webcast, visit http://dln.nasa.gov.

AMA to Speak at Lunar Cubes Workshop

Dr. Kathleen Morse is to speak at the Third International Workshop on Lunar Cubes this November 15th in Palo Alto, CA.

Ref: http://lunarnetworks.blogspot.com/2012/05/1st-international-workshop-on.html

She will discuss the progress that AMA is making towards understanding how current generation system on a chip (SoC) technology behaves in a radiation environment.  In addition, she will provide updates on the SoC payload scheduled to arrive on the external module of the ISS September 2014.

AMA looks forward to learning of the electronics requirements of Deep Space CubeSats and how we can work with customers to help them meet their exploration goals.

AMA Speaks at Citizen Astronaut and Space Hacker Workshop

Dr. Kathleen Morse, founder of Advanced Materials Applications, LLC (AMA) and CASIS sponsored principal investigator, is to speak at this weekend’s Citizen Astronaut and Space Hacker Workshop.

She will speak on AMA’s plans to evaluate the performance of Gumstix™ system on a chip in ground based and space based radiation studies.  Ground based radiation studies will take place at Crocker Nuclear Labs from July to December of this year.  Space based studies will occur on an external module of the International Space Station.

The ground and space based radiation studies of the Gumstix™ module will be the first published studies of its kind.  This will be an initial and an important first step to integrate this powerful system on a chip technology into future radiation tolerant computers.

A copy of the slides is provided below.

Gumstix in Space

 

AMA Wins Grant to Evaluate Gumstix in Space

Advanced Materials Applications, LLC  wins a grant from CASIS to evaluate the performance of Gumstix™ system on a chip technology in low earth orbit.

ref: www.astrium.eads.net

An excerpt from the abstract of the proposal is provided below.:

Radiation hardened and radiation tolerant computers do not offer an optimum processing solution for space applications that are computationally demanding such as signal processing and analysis, data capture, and sensing and detection.  Current space qualified computers use processors that are 2 or 3 generations behind the state-of-the-art terrestrial processing technologies.  Advanced Materials Applications, LLC (AMA) proposes ground based and space based radiation studies to investigate the feasibility of the Gumstix Computer On Module (COM) technology for use in non-critical computationally intensive space applications.   Gumstix modules are gum stick sized and use current generation OMAP processors with ARM Cortex-A8 architecture.  The proposed study is an important step towards their use in a fault tolerant computers that could meet the computational demands of current and next generation space missions.

Learning for Free!

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Lifelong learning is a good practice to have in the world of fast pace changes in technology.  Today there are several opportunities to pick up new skills and learn new subjects online.  Over the past year, I have found several free resources to learn and actually receive a completion certificate from top universities.  Subjects covered include (but not limited to) business, finance, the sciences, engineering, programming, math and philosophy.

Check out the links below and see if there may be something worth your time:-)

Coursera:  https://www.coursera.org/courses

MIT Open Courseware:  http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Opportunities to Test Advanced Materials in Space

A significant challenge in the advancement of space technology has been the space qualification advanced materials and devices.  From my own experience working in the aerospace industry, the integration of new materials and devices into space applications is virtually impossible if the material has not already been proven in space.  Due to tight research and development budgets, it is very difficult to mature emerging technology to the level at which lead engineers are comfortable integrating these into payloads. The maturation of new technology is described by the Air Force definition of Technical Readiness Level (TRL).

It is level 5 in the TRL process that the advanced material undergoes testing in the relevant environment.  With tight budgets, testing in the relevant environment, in this case space, was traditionally very expensive and slow.  However, NASA has teamed up with Nanoracks to provide both an inexpensive and relatively quick way to do this on the International Space Station (ISS).

Nanoracks provides a low cost “plug and play” research facility for small standardized payloads that can be interfaced with the ISS data and power management systems.  Nanoracks offers access to both the micro gravity environment and the low earth orbit environment (radiation, atomic oxygen, hard vacuum and temperature extremes).  A typical turnaround time for a trip to the ISS is on the order of months (not years).

 

Sam Gunderson at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) has mentioned that a request for proposals should soon be out.  It will be offering grants to help companies commercialize products developed from the use of the ISS and Nanorack facilities.  He also pointed me to the Materials International Space Station Experiment-X ( MISSE X).    Since 2001, this lab has tested and evaluated over 4,000 materials and specimens.  Currently, there is a request for information seeking interest and use of this lab from both industry and academia.

Using Less Conventional Materials in a New Way : Windward Performance LTD.

The gliders produced by Windward Performance LTD. have caused a buzz in the glider community.  Using less conventional materials and new airfoil designs, the company is creating gliders with improved performance when compared to its competitors.

I had a chance to talk with Wade Carman, an engineer and glider pilot at Windward Performance, about the innovative gliders that they they are developing.

Question: What was the inspiration to starting Windward Performance?

Wade:  Greg Cole, the owner and chief designer, wanted to create an ultra-light sailplane that is fun and safe to fly.

Current models include the SparrowHawk which has an empty weight of 154lbs. and the DuckHawk SV with an empty weight of 435lbs. (For comparison, the Glasflügel 303 Mosquito glider has an empty weight of 532lbs.)

Question: What are the advantages to an ultra light weight glider?

Wade:  There are several advantages.

  •  It is easier to assembly.  Unlike conventional gliders that require 2 or more people to assemble or require special rigs, these gliders have light wings and can be assembled with one person.
  • It has a low sink rate and low wing loading so it can efficiently climb in weak lift (aka. micro-lift).  The lift is easier to work and therefore it ia easier to gain altitude.
  • Lighter weight gliders are less expensive to build.

Question:  What are some of the less conventional materials that are being used in the gliders?

Wade:  Kevlar-based cable is used instead of the more traditional steel push-rods for the aileron, rudder and elevator.  Kevlar cable doesn’t stretch.  It is as strong as steel push-rods in tension.  Kevlar is also lighter weight than steel.

Prepreg carbon fiber material from Toray is used instead of the more traditional wet lay-up carbon fiber.  This saves about 50% in weight.

The gliders are optimized for dynamic soaring.  When flying through significant gradients between air masses, these strong, stiff and light weight gliders are optimize to gain altitude efficiently.

Question:  I see that these models use unique airfoils.  What performance specifications are they optimized for?

Wade:  Greg designs the airfoils using in-house and commercial software.  He has gone through roughly a thousand two-dimensional airfoil sets.  Using a sub-set of these, he builds a three dimensional airfoil.  The Duckhawk has a complex combination of airfoils that are optimized for sailplanes used in competition.  The high aspect ratio wing coupled with the strong and light weight materials enable gliders to climb fast in thermals and fly fast between thermal.

Question:  What are the future goals of the company?

Wade:  We want to continue to make fun and safe gliders.  We are also developing two-place motor gliders.

Metamaterials Entering The Commercial Market as Miniaturized Antennas

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Metamaterials are a very interesting advanced material.  Metamaterial can be described as an electromagnetic composite in which structure and constituent materials determine how it will affect the propagation of light.  Metamaterials typically include several classes of electromagnetic composites including photonic crystals, negative index materials, low index materials, zero index materials, and  chiral metamaterials.  The wavelength or frequency at which they control the propagation of light and therefore energy is a function of the size of the periodic  features.  For photonic crystals, the feature is on the order of the wavelength of light.  For the other classes of metamaterials, the feature size can be 10 times to 100 times smaller than the wavelength of light.  In the age of smart phones, in which multi-band operation, lighter and lower profile products are desired by users, metamaterials have finally found a home in the world of mobile phone antennas.

Rayspan has successfully commercialize metamaterials by integrating them into antenna applications.  Netgear became Rayspan’s first customer.  To date, Rayspan has shipped over 25 million metamaterial antennas in routers.  LG was the next customer.  LG has integrated Rayspan’s low profile, multi-band metamaterial based antenna into the LG Chocolate smart phone.   LG’s president notes that this enabled them to achieve a much sleeker product with improved antenna performance.  Since, Rayspan has signed a licensing agreement with another undisclosed mobile phone provider.  Rayspan’s success at commercializing a metamaterials based product is notable.

Since the discovery of metamaterials by Marconi in 1919, these advanced materials have not successfully penetrated the commercial market.  Frost & Sullivan note that successful integration and commercialization of metamaterials into applications has been plagued by:

  • lack of customer awareness
  • technical difficulties in design and fabrication
  • loss (absorption in metamaterials)
  • lack of collaborative efforts

I led a research program at a large aerospace company for five years in the area of metamaterials.  Based on my own experience, I would say that the lack of customer awareness (and customer pull) was the biggest problem.  The next challenge was to appropriately match the class of metamaterial to a targeted application area.  I took into account the maturity of metamaterial fabrication and design and the absorption of the metamaterial and the constituent materials.  Finally, the metamaterial would need to be matched to the appropriate application.  Specifically, the integration of the metamaterial would need to enhance various desired performance characteristics one to two orders of magnitude.

Metamaterials have the potential to transform the current technology landscape in several industries.  Future posts will discuss advances in the design, fabrication and integration of metamaterials into applications.

Aerographite is a Breakthrough in Light Weight and Multifunctional Materials

In the past few months, a new material has come into light – aerographite.

It has several remarkable properties.  The most noteworthy is its low density.  It has the lowest density of any material ever created including air.  The density is 0.2mg/cm3.  In addition, it can be compressed three orders of magnitude and then spring back to its original size.  It is also electrically conductive and conductivity can be modified by compressing the material. [1]

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The structure is an interconnected network of closed shelled microtubes.  The walls of these tubes are approximately 15 nanometers thick but have a tube diameter in the order of a micron or more.  Unlike multiwalled carbon nanotubes, the microtubes show less curvature.  The tube surface can be modified by growth conditions to introduce wrinkles that increase mechanical stability.

It is processed from ZnO powder that is heated to 900°C.  This transforms the ZnO to a three dimensional network of nanocrystals and microcrystals.  This is then placed into a chemical vapor deposition reactor where carbon and hydrogen rich gas sources are introduced at a chamber temperature of 760°C.  Aerographite can currently be fabricated up to a volume of several cubic centimeters.

Other interesting properties include:

  • high optical absorption.  It appears black
  • flexible and compressible.
  • hydophobic so will wet well to epoxies.
  • high temperature stability
  • chemically resistant

Some potential applications include:

  • Electronics for aerospace applications.  The low density property means low acceleration forces which is ideal for high impact and high vibration environments.
  • Electrode for Li ion batteries.  Mechanical robustness, high surface area and low specific weight are all beneficial properties for this application.

Reference:

[1]  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201200491/pdf

Graphene is an Advanced Material to Keep an Eye On

Graphene is one of a handful of advanced materials that when successfully manufactured on a large scale and integrated will transform many areas of industry including (but not limited to) electronics, construction, and optics over the next several decades.

Graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of sp2-bonded carbon atoms that make up a hexagonally closed packed two-dimensional lattice.  From this description, it is clear to see that this material offers a very high surface to volume ratio.  It will have very different in-plane properties compared to out of plane properties.  It is easy to guess it is very strong (in-plane tensile strength is 200 times that of steel).  It is basically an unzipped carbon nanotube.

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Graphene is a material with a unique combination of properties.  These include electrical properties such as high electron mobility (15,000cm2V-1s-1) which is nearly temperature independent from 10K to 100K.  It has a sheet resistivity that is less than silver (10-6W) and yet is still transparent at visible wavelengths.  Optical properties include a voltage tunable band gap and the nonlinear Kerr effect.  Notable thermal properties include an in-plane conductivity similar to diamond (1000W/mK).  Mechanical properties include a tensile modulus of 1TPa.  It can also be stretched at 20% of its length and still maintain structural integrity.

This remarkable material has attracted much interest in both research and commercial sectors.  Currently, over 200 small and medium sized companies are working on the manufacturing of graphene (both bottom-up and top-down approaches) and its integration into products.  A few applications of interest include:

  • flexible electronics
  • conductive inks
  • super lubricant
  • hydrophobic coatings
  • high frequency integrated circuits

According to a Frost and Sullivan March 2012 report titled “Advances in Graphene Technologies – Emerging Business Opportunities”, manufacturing of large sheets of high quality graphene is a key bottle neck for its integration into the electronics industry.  They estimate that this should be achieved in four years (if not sooner).

Collaborative efforts between companies and academia have developed and are seen as key in making progress in manufacturing challenges.  These include the Graphene Flagship and the Korean Graphene Hub.

It is estimated that graphene-enhanced products will be the first to reach the market and that graphene-enabled products will follow about a decade later.