Physical Sciences

Is Pluto a Planet? Scientists Seek New Definition

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto to "non-planet" status. Johns Hopkins University scientist Kirby Runyon led a group of six researchers to draft a new definition of "planet" — one that includes more than 100 other celestial bodies, including Pluto. The proposal was presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, hosted in Houston, Texas on March 21.

Posted in: News, Cameras, Imaging, Physical Sciences, Propulsion

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Should Pluto be restored as a planet?

This week’s Question: Last week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Johns Hopkins University's Kirby Runyon reignited an often fierce debate within the scientific community: Pluto’s planetary status.

Posted in: Question of the Week, Physical Sciences

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High-Speed Cameras Help Digital Image Correlation Show Its Strength

Digital Image Correlation (DIC) using high-speed cameras is gaining in popularity as a method for measuring material deformation and strain. That popularity is based on some real advantages of DIC over traditional sensors, and supported by advances in camera capabilities, integrator software, and new measurement techniques.

Posted in: White Papers, Coatings & Adhesives, Materials, Physical Sciences, Test & Measurement

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Foldable and Deployable Power Collection System

The lightweight solar power array can be used in electric vehicles, portable and field-deployable power systems, and power for emergency response operations.NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is developing a lightweight space-based solar power array with a high power-to-stowed-volume and weight ratio. The system provides power to small satellites and CubeSats that are power starved, operating on extremely limited power because of the size restrictions for housing onboard power sources. The beauty of NASA’s new solar unit is in its simplicity and packaged power density. Small satellites cannot take advantage of deployable high-efficiency solar cell arrays due to their complexity and mechanical needs; the weight and volume requirements exceed what is available in small satellites and CubeSats. The new system, for example, is compact enough to provide a 3U CubeSat with ~200 Watts, or a 6U with 500 Watts of power. NASA is developing the technology and is looking for partners to license and commercialize it.

Posted in: Briefs, Energy, Solar Power, Physical Sciences, Solar energy, Product development, Satellites

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Solid-State Ultracapacitor

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has developed a solid-state ultracapacitor utilizing a novel nanocomposite dielectric material. The material’s design is based on the internal barrier layer capacitance (IBLC) concept, and it uses novel dielectric and metallic conductive ink formulations.

Posted in: Briefs, Energy, Physical Sciences, Ultracapacitors and supercapacitors, Composite materials, Nanomaterials

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Iodine-Compatible Hall Effect Thruster

The use of iodine reduces the technical demands on thruster design. Iodine-compatible Hall effect thruster. The Hall effect thruster (HET) was designed for long-duration operation with gaseous iodine as the propellant. Iodine is an alternative to the state-of-the-art propellant xenon. Compared to xenon, iodine stores as a solid at much higher density and at a much lower pressure. Because iodine is a halogen, it is reactive with some of the materials with which a Hall thruster is typically constructed. Through research and testing, the new method allows for the HET to be used with iodine propellant for long periods of time.

Posted in: Briefs, Physical Sciences, Propulsion, Propellants, Spacecraft fuel, Storage, Rocket engines

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Images of Change for iPad

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California Images of Change provides a user-friendly mobile interface for exploring an extensive gallery of land-based and space-based images showing dramatic change over time on Earth. Hosted on NASA’s Global Climate Change website, Images of Change is designed to raise awareness of climate change, inspire curiosity and interest in the programs that create the images, and highlight the importance of global climate change research.

Posted in: Briefs, Green Design & Manufacturing, Physical Sciences, Imaging and visualization

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Characteristics of the Spliced Kennedy Space Center Doppler Radar Wind Profiler Database

Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama NASA relies on the Natural Environments (NE) Branch located at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to provide databases that represent the wind magnitudes and wind changes expected on day-of-launch (DOL) for vehicle programs that MSFC NE supports. MSFC NE has traditionally utilized weather balloon measurements to generate the wind profiles used in DOL loads and trajectory simulations. However, balloon measurement archives have three limitations in that (1) they do not contain a large enough sample to adequately represent the wind environment at extreme percentiles, (2) balloons could misrepresent the aloft wind environment due to their rise rate and drift characteristics, and (3) the Space Shuttle Program’s operational requirements significantly drove the atmosphere databases’ development. To help mitigate these limitations, MSFC NE used the 50-MHz Doppler Radar Wind Profiler (DRWP) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to validate balloon measurements on DOL during the SSP.

Posted in: Briefs, Green Design & Manufacturing, Physical Sciences, Radar, Test equipment and instrumentation

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Watching Alloys Change Could Lead to Better Metals

If you put a camera in the ice machine and watched water turn into ice, the process would look simple. But the mechanism behind liquids turning to solids is actually quite complex, and understanding it better could improve design and production of metals. A recent investigation aboard the International Space Station (ISS) involved experiments using transparent alloys to observe microstructures that form at the point the material solidifies.

Posted in: UpFront, Materials, Physical Sciences

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A Continuous-Flow, Microfluidic, Microwave-Assisted Chemical Reactor

The reactor uses a directed 60-GHz source, which may require far less power to observe the same reactivity profiles. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California In industrial synthetic chemistry laboratories, reactions are generally carried out using batch-mode methodologies, stepwise reactions, and purifications to generate a final product. Each step has an associated yield of both the reaction itself and of the final purification that is largely dependent on the procedure being used, and the scientist carrying out the procedure. Continuous-flow reactors are one way of streamlining the process. Furthermore, microwave-enhanced, or microwave-assisted, chemistry has been demonstrated to aid in many of these areas; however, scaling has been a traditional problem with this technique.

Posted in: Articles, Briefs, TSP, Physical Sciences, RF & Microwave Electronics, Instrumentation, Test & Measurement, Research and development, Chemicals

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