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Integrated Sonic/Microwave Detector Measures Fluid Flow Rates, Mass Density
August 11, 2011

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Innovators at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) have patented a method and apparatus for measuring the flow rate and mass density of fluid flowing through a pipe. Using a combination of microwave and sonic sensors and a computer that processes digitized readings taken by the sensors, the system detects excessive pressure within the pipe and provides early warnings of trouble. The technology was conceived specifically for monitoring the flow of oil well drilling mud, but the basic design and operation principles are applicable for other industries that require mass measurement of fluid flow. The dual sensor system for measuring densities and the simultaneous use of an integrated sonic/microwave system for height and volume measurements are unique. The technology provides accurate density measurements as well as fast, real-time monitoring of both total and partial fluid flow rates. JSC has received patent number 6,650,280 for this technology.


  • Early warning: Provides notice of trouble during the drilling process so that steps can be taken to prevent loss of a well hole
  • Economical: Saves expenses by identifying potential well blowouts, pipe breaks, and circulation losses; the estimated cost to build the system is $2,500-$4,000 per unit
  • Portable: Features small, lightweight components; suitable for both onshore and offshore drilling teams
  • Accurate: Measures the entire fluid flow within a pipe, rather than only a small diverted sample flow
  • Safe: Operates with no danger of explosion in the presence of flammable fluids


  • Oil drilling
  • Oil refining
  • Food processing
  • Sewage treatment


Johnson Space Center has received patent protection (U.S. 6,650,280→) for this technology.

Licensing and Partnering Opportunity

This technology is being made available through JSC's Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to consider licensing this technology for commercial applications.

Contact Information

If you would like more information about this technology or about NASA's technology transfer program, please contact:

Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center
Phone: 281-483-3809
E-mail: jsc-techtran@mail.nasa.gov

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Page Last Updated: January 16th, 2014
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