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Spinoff 1996

Technology Applications

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Technology Transfer

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Engineering applications projects are efforts to create beneficial new products, or to solve significant public sector or industrial problems, through redesign or reengineering of existing technology. Some projects stem from requests for assistance from government agencies or industrial firms, others are generated by NASA technologists who perceive possible problem solutions or useful product developments by adapting NASA technology to a particular need. NASA also employs an applications team composed of scientists and engineers representing different areas of expertise, who identify problems, submit them to NASA centers for review, then assist the centers in adapting the technology. Engineering applications projects are generally conducted in cooperation with a partnering organization on a cost-sharing basis.

of the hand-held Earth Alert System disaster warning receiver
This is a special version of the Earth Alert System disaster warning receiver designed for use in Hawaii; the emergency symbols are the same as those used in the Honolulu phone book. The system was developed as a partnership applications project of Goddard Space Flight Center and Scientific and Commercial Systems Corporation.

The camera pictured on page 116 exemplifies an application project undertaken by Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). The gold-rimmed device is a 4K ¥ 4K Mosaic CCD Camera, used by NASA for ground-based astronomy at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, Arizona. The engineering applications project, in which GSFC is teamed with the University of Massachusetts, involves adapting the technology for use in mammography (cancer-screening breast examination).

Mammography is normally accomplished by x-ray examination of the internal structure of the breast. The 4K ¥ 4K device offers significant improvement over the x-ray technique because it is an electronic camera that takes pictures without film by converting light directly into digital images; digitizing the image enables real-time display on a screen and allows technicians to zoom in on a specific feature and to enhance or otherwise manipulate the image to extract additional information. Continuing work on this application is aimed toward development of a display compatible with existing x-ray systems for clinical use.

solar powered mobile tower/trailer antenna system is pictured outdoors
Satellite-relayed warnings are picked up by this solar-powered mobile tower/trailer antenna system and broadcast to the handheld personal receivers. The dish antenna is the satellite downlink antenna; the warning transmission antenna is on the 37-foot mast.

Another example of an engineering applications project, one that also offers life-saving potential, is a disaster warning device for isolated populations-such as the inhabitants of islands in the Pacific-where there are insufficient means of delivering warnings of severe weather or other natural disasters. This project draws on NASA weather satellite technology to provide a fast, effective personal warning system for individuals threatened by a disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, forest fire or flood. In this development, GSFC is teamed with Scientific and Commercial Systems Corporation (SCSC), Beltsville, Maryland. SCSC is a Goddard support contractor producing electronic schematics, circuit boards and integrated systems for such applications as steerable antenna controls and satellite downlink data processors.


close-up photo of the Earth Alert System mast showing the electronics container and warning transmission antenna
A closeup view of the Earth Alert System mast showing the electronics container (box in center of photo) and the warning transmission antenna (top of mast).

Called Earth Alert, the system provides direct transmission of severe weather warnings to a handheld device that uses symbols, maps or text messages to indicate the nature and status of the emergency and allow the users to take survival actions. The system consists of a central trailer-mounted transmitter plus an appropriate number of handheld receivers, distributed to individuals, homes and offices in the isolated area. When a disaster threatens, an initial warning is sent to a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite in geostationary orbit. The satellite rebroadcasts the message back to Earth, where it is picked up by an Earth Alert ground station and broadcast, via the central transmitter, to the personal receivers in the area. Each Earth Alert system is tailored to a specific locale. The handheld beeper-like device, the mobile central transmitter, and the software/hardware for decoding and display were developed by SCSC.

Goddard and SCSC have modeled an Earth Alert System for the Republic of Fiji and developed a special variant of the receiver for use in the islands of Hawaii. The receivers were modified to report four threats-hurricane, tsunami, flash flood and high surf -specified by the State of Hawaii Office of Civil Defense. Tests demonstrated communications compatibility with standard radio and satellite systems. SCSC is continuing its partnership with GSFC by working on a design for a standardized VHF receiver. The company is offering commercial Earth Alert Systems tailored to specific locales, including the central transmitter, documentation, training and a block of 1,000 receivers.

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