TWO NAMED AMONG 100 BEST NEW HIGH-TECH PRODUCTS
NASA inventions help in a material way
NASA Langley inventions have been
named two of the 100 most significant new technical products of
One represents a dramatic
improvement in aerospace materials -- the other a dramatic
improvement in control of aerospace structures. In different
ways, they will lengthen the life and improve the performance of
spacecraft or aircraft and promise to further improve quality of
life on Earth through future consumer products.
The R&D 100 award is presented
annually by Research and Development Magazine to the
innovators of the 100 most technologically significant new products
of the year from around the world. Selections are made by a
panel of distinguished scientists and engineers.
One of the
Langley inventions is a class of aerospace materials that is highly
resistant to the harsh extremes of low Earth orbit where an
increasing number of satellites are being placed. These
superplastics -- called polymers -- will provide an effective
coating when applied to spacecraft surfaces, protecting against
erosion by atomic oxygen and damage from space radiation.
This resistance translates to spacecraft components with
longer lifetimes and reduced cost.
NASA Langley's commercial partner,
Triton Systems, Inc., Chelmsford, Mass., has developed processing
and fabrication techniques for the materials and manufactures them
in the form of powder, adhesive tape, solution, fiber, thread,
fabric and film. The fibers are twisted into thread that can
be used to sew multi-layer thermal insulation blankets, woven into
fabric and braided to make tethers. Large films can be
metallized and used for solar arrays or inflatable space
Triton markets its product under
the TOR tradename. The materials have been selected for use
on two NASA space missions scheduled for launch in the winter of
2000. They are presently under evaluation for several
electronic applications because of inherent resistance to high
voltage and arcing.
Smart Wings and Things
The second NASA Langley
invention is a super-sensitive actuator that has at least a dozen
potential applications, but is presently being evaluated for the
control of vibrations in very large, flexible space structures.
As envisioned, the lightweight composite actuators would be
embedded in the framework of giant antennae or telescope mirrors.
When low voltages are automatically applied, the actuators
would eliminate vibrations and unwanted distortions in the shape of
the deployed structure. With this technology, telescope
mirrors would theoretically be large enough, and stable enough, to
see planets orbiting other stars.
Closer to home, the same
technology could allow airplanes to mimic birds by instantly
reshaping the wing surface while in flight. A series of
embedded actuators could adjust to flight conditions, improving
performance and fuel efficiency of future aircraft.
Similar actuators can be
retrofitted to existing aircraft, naval, automotive or civil
engineering structures for vibration damping and to increase
structural life. They can also be integrated into aircraft
passenger compartments, engine nacelles and helicopter blades to
reduce noise levels.
Called the LaRC Macro-Fiber
Composite, the actuator device is proving to be low-cost, have high
performance and endurance, and be conformable. It may be used
as an integral part of virtually any composite structure.
In the 33 years of NASA Langley's
participation in the R&D 100 competition, 33 NASA Langley
developments have been selected.
Individuals to be honored Sept. 27 at the Chicago Museum of
Science and Industry: