Spinoffs of Tomorrow

Ames

Underwater flora with mountains above the surface

The OMEGA System

Multispectral Imaging, Detection, and Active Reflectance (MiDAR)

A novel next-generation remote sensing instrument

Ames Research Center has developed a novel next-generation remote sensing instrument with advanced scientific capabilities for multispectral imaging, detection, and active reflectance (MiDAR). The MiDAR transmitter and receiver demonstrate a novel and cost-effective solution for simultaneous high-frame-rate, high-signal-to-noise ratio multispectral imaging—with potential for hyperspectral imaging. The technology can transmit high-bandwidth one-way communication while imaging.

The use of algorithms enables the creation of three-dimensional multispectral scenes and high-resolution underwater imagery, ideal for use in future scientific airborne field campaigns.

Benefits

  • Cost-effective, high-resolution imaging
  • Not limited by ambient light
  • Can be used underwater
  • Transmits high-bandwidth one-way communication while imaging

Applications

  • Remote sensing from aircraft, robotic explorers, and spacecraft
  • Noninvasive medical imaging and diagnosis
  • Semiconductor imaging and structural analysis
  • Simultaneous optical communications


Small rocket firing from gantry

Affordable Vehicle Avionics

Common, modular avionics system for nano-launchers, offering affordable access to space

Small satellites, or smallsats, are becoming ever more capable of performing valuable missions for both government and commercial customers. However, currently these satellites can only be launched affordably as secondary payloads, which makes it difficult for smallsat missions to launch when needed and reach their desired orbit with acceptable risk.

NASA’s affordable vehicle avionics technology offers access to space for small payloads operators with an ability to have their own dedicated launch to low-Earth orbit, when and where they need. This technology demonstrates a self-contained guidance system that can be integrated and operated at a fraction of the recurring costs of existing units.

Benefits

  • Small and lightweight
  • Economical, leveraging off-the-self hardware
  • Lab-tested to survive the launch environment
  • Common suite of avionics and software made available to several launch providers


Applications

  • Nano-launches for smallsats
  • Small satellites used for imaging, communications, and remote sensing
  • Commercial launch vehicle developers


Armstrong

Car crash test at moment of impact

Wireless Sensor Gateway

Wireless platform reduces cable weight, speeds up flight testing timelines

Wireless sensors are attractive because they do not add cable weight and take less time to install than wired sensors—which makes it easier and faster to take advantage of the latest upgrades in wireless sensor technology. Engineers at Armstrong Flight Research Center have developed a wireless gateway platform that allows aircraft test engineers to integrate emerging wireless sensors into pre-existing hardwired flight-test sensor networks.

The gateway uses a software-defined radio to control the flow of information between dissimilar wireless devices and a vehicle’s avionics. This single universal access point time-stamps sensor data, synchronizes the information between new wireless and legacy wireless sensors and hardware, and feeds the information to storage devices.

Benefits

  • Easy to implement and integrate updated sensors
  • Reduced weight frees up payload capacity
  • Saves time and reduces costs while preserving investment in legacy networks
  • Expands sensor placement options
  • Software updates can accommodate future wireless sensor technology

Applications

  • Aeronautic and automotive vehicle testing
  • Monitoring the health of systems in long-term storage
  • “Internet of things” for industry


Row of windmills at sunset

Propeller Blade Shape

A new twist makes rotating machinery more efficient and quieter

A new shape for propeller blades dramatically increases their efficiency while reducing noise. Based on improvements achieved through a new wing design known as PRANDTL-D, this innovative propeller incorporates a nonlinear twist to the propeller blade. The twist moves the load inward and dissipates the tip vortex over a wider area, minimizing its effect on drag.

The changes result in a more than 15 percent improvement in propulsive efficiency and significantly reduced noise, which enables lower power consumption for propeller aircraft.

Benefits

  • Reduces power consumption while producing the same thrust
  • Cuts fuel costs
  • Lowers noise levels dramatically
  • Can be coupled with laminar flow or supercritical airfoils

Applications

  • Aircraft and marine propellers
  • Industrial fans
  • Axial compressors in air separation plants and blast furnaces
  • Power turbines, such as those used to generate nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind power


Mesh tire rolls over a sharp rock

Superelastic Tire

A viable alternative to the pneumatic tire

The Superelastic Tire, developed for future Mars missions, is a viable alternative to pneumatic tires here on Earth. This technology represents the latest evolution of the Spring Tire, which was invented by Glenn Research Center and Goodyear and inspired by the Apollo lunar tires.

Instead of rubber or other elastic materials, the tire uses shape-memory alloys as load-bearing components. These shape-memory alloys can undergo significant reversible strain (up to 10 percent), enabling the tire to withstand an order of magnitude greater deformation without being damaged compared to other nonpneumatic tires.

The Superelastic Tire offers traction equal or superior to conventional pneumatic tires and eliminates the possibility of puncture failures, thereby improving automobile safety. This tire design also eliminates the need for an inner frame, which both simplifies and lightens the tire-wheel assembly.

Benefits

  • No risk of puncture failure
  • Strong, lightweight, and versatile
  • High traction
  • No need for air

Applications

  • All-terrain vehicles
  • Military and aircraft tires
  • Construction and heavy equipment
  • Consumer automobiles
  • Agricultural vehicles


White lines connect white dots in a random pattern over a black background

Secure Optical Quantum Communications

Novel production and use of entangled-photon pairs enhances quantum communications capability

Quantum communications systems rely on photon pairs for highly secure communications. But prior systems to produce those pairs were too large to be portable. Glenn Research Center has developed a method of using entangled-photon pairs approximately a million times more efficiently than conventional sources, in a system that is small and light enough to be portable.

Because this method transmits digital information by detecting small temporal shifts between entangled photons, it has a superior signal-to-noise ratio, which facilitates highly secure communications in very noisy free space and fiber-optic environments.

Originally developed for microrobots used in space exploration, this technology represents a breakthrough for a wide variety of terrestrial, scientific, military, and other field-deployable applications including fiber-optic and satellite communications.

Benefits

  • Highly secure
  • Transmits information at very low power levels
  • Can be used in free space and with fiber-optic cables
  • Works with low-cost, off-the-shelf optical coatings and components
  • Compact and transportable

Applications

  • Satellite communications
  • Defense technologies
  • Airborne communications
  • Surveillance systems
  • Secure line-of-sight optical communication links

 

Goddard

Rendering of a spacecraft enveloped in heat during descent to a planetary surface

Miniaturized High-Speed Modulated X-Ray Source

Small, low-cost option for high-speed modulation of X-ray intensity

This miniaturized X-ray source can be modulated in intensity from completely off to full intensity in sub-nanosecond timescales. The high-speed switching capability and miniature size make possible many new technologies, including X-ray-based communication, compact time-resolved X-ray diffraction, novel X-ray fluorescence instruments, low-dose medical X-rays, and more.

The device is more compact, rugged, and power-efficient than standard X-ray sources. It can be manufactured using commercially available components and 3D-printed housing. Unlike traditional X-ray sources, this technology does not require a filament or vacuum and cooling systems. Most importantly, rapid and arbitrary modulation allows the use of X-rays in the time domain, a new dimension to X-ray applications.

Benefits

  • Arbitrary modulation up to 100 kiloelectron volts within a nanosecond
  • Small size, rugged
  • Low cost to produce
  • Energy-efficient
  • Secure, fast, and long-range
  • Works with hypersonic aircraft in atmosphere


Applications

  • Secure, power-efficient X-ray-based communications
  • In-flight calibration of X-ray detectors
  • Compact, time-resolved X-ray diffraction and fluorescence
  • Precise and low-dose medical X-ray imaging
  • Chemical and material analysis


Rendering of the cooperative service valve

Gear Bearings

Increased capacity and performance with reduced size, weight, and cost

This potentially revolutionary gear bearing technology represents a mechanical architecture breakthrough: it combines gear and bearing functions into a single unit that significantly improves gear drives across the board for electrical, internal combustion, and turbine motors. Because it combines gear and bearing functions, it reduces weight, number of parts, size, and cost, while also increasing load capacity and performance. The technology is compatible with most gear types, including spur, helical, elliptical, and bevel gears. By selecting the appropriate manufacturing method and materials, gear bearings can be tailored to benefit any application, from toys to aircraft.

Benefits

  • Designed for human and robotic access, and similar in size to standard valves
  • Requires no caps or wires
  • Inherent thermal isolation
  • Compatible with common spacecraft propellants and pressurants including xenon
  • Self-locking against inadvertent actuation

Applications

  • Ground and launch pad fueling
  • In-space satellite refueling and repair


JPL

Firefighters in full gear with blazing fire in background

AUDREY, the Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and sYnthesis

Next-generation artificial intelligence thinks like a human

A new kind of self-learning artificial-intelligence system can comb through massive amounts of data, spot patterns and make predictions, and then feed these new findings back into the system to improve its reasoning in the future.

Housed in the cloud, the system can pick up information from a variety of sources, including wearable sensors, and offer insights directly to the wearer. For example, one version designed for firefighters and first responders works with heat, gas, and heartbeat sensors to analyze the surroundings and help these workers avoid and escape dangerous situations.

Nicknamed AUDREY, for Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction, and sYnthesis, the system can respond to human queries on demand and communicate with other AUDREYs across users, creating a mesh network of information and analysis.

Benefits

  • Analyzes data from a variety of sensors
  • Sends alerts to a smartphone
  • Incorporates new data to improve future decision-making
  • Communicates with other installations

Applications

  • First responders and emergency personnel
  • Internet-of-things applications

African woman uses hoe to cultivate field
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center run under contract for NASA by the California Institute of Technology. If your company is interested in these or other JPL/Caltech technologies, visit http://scienceandtechnology.jpl.nasa.gov/opportunities.

Regional Hydrological Extremes Assessment System

Drought assessment and prediction system provides early warnings

Drought is Africa’s most devastating natural disaster, threatening the livelihoods and lives of millions of people. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has developed a drought assessment and prediction system, called the Regional Hydrological Extremes Assessment System (RHEAS), coupling a proven hydrologic model with an existing agricultural productivity model. The system benefits from a suite of satellite-based products, including soil moisture, precipitation, and evapotranspiration models that help forecast drought onset and recovery probability, cumulative soil moisture deficit, vegetation greenness, and agricultural productivity and yield.

This kind of information can be used to identify the needs of the population so that mitigation measures can be taken.

Benefits

  • Early warning for drought
  • Assesses current moisture levels
  • Uses proven hydrologic model
  • Data from suite of satellite-based imagers

Applications

  • International aid
  • State and local water management
  • Agricultural forecasting

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Johnson

Water pours into a glass

Pre-Treatment Solution for Water Recovery

Increase water recovery, prevent mineral scaling, and reduce the volume of brines by half

The Pre-Treatment Solution for Water Recovery technology was developed by Johnson Space Center innovators to increase the amount of potable water recovered from the International Space Station’s urine processor assembly system.

Turning wastewater, urine, or seawater into drinking water requires three important steps: pre-treatment, distillation or membrane filtration, and transportation and storage of potable water and brine. This solution is added during the first step, consequently improving the next steps in the process primarily by reducing the formation of solid precipitates. By reducing these precipitates, there is less surface scaling and clogging in the distillation systems and more potable water can be recovered. Also, the solution contains a biocide to prevent the growth of bacteria, thereby increasing storage time and the amount of water recovered.

Benefits

  • Simple process
  • Increased water recovery rate
  • Works for urine, wastewater, and seawater
  • Scalable from small- to large-scale operations

Applications

  • Desalination plants
  • Brackish water treatment
  • Mining water treatment
  • Urine recycling as a water source
  • Water supply for oil and gas exploration and production
  • Transportation and storage of concentrated waste product
  • Membrane wastewater treatment systems

Vehicle plugged into a charging station

Battery Management System

Simple, reliable, safe battery management for high-voltage systems

Innovators at Johnson Space Center have developed a simple and reliable circuit that detects a single bad cell within a battery pack of hundreds of cells and can monitor and balance the charge of individual cells in series. The Battery Management System is cost-effective and can enhance safety and extend the life of critical battery systems, including high-voltage lithium-ion batteries that are used in electric vehicles and other next-generation renewable energy applications.

Cell balancing in multi-cell battery strings compensates for weaker cells by equalizing the charge on all the cells in the chain, thus extending battery life. Voltage sensing helps avoid damage from over-voltage that can occur during charging and from under-voltage that can occur through excessive discharging.

Another benefit: Johnson’s Battery Management System uses fewer connections (pins) than competing technologies, which reduces complexity and improves reliability.

Benefits

  • Reliable and low-cost
  • Lowers risk of thermal runaway
  • Extends battery life
  • Balances cells by adding charge to individual cells

Applications

  • Electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid
    electric vehicles
  • Telecommunications backup systems
  • Space mission critical battery backup systems
  • Uninterruptible power systems
  • Electric utility storage for renewable energy
  • High-voltage critical battery systems


Kennedy

Aerial image of water treatment plant with many round buildings

Ammonia Recovery System for Wastewater

Closed-loop system for recovering ammonia from wastewater

This ammonia recovery system for wastewater was developed for potential use to recycle water on the International Space Station. The system uses an affordable media that can reduce ammonia concentrations in wastewater from as high as 100,000 parts per million (ppm) to less than 1 ppm. Following treatment, the media is regenerated for reuse in the system, and ammonia is captured as a by-product.

Although the NASA system is being developed for smaller-scale, space-based applications, the technology is scalable for larger industrial and municipal wastewater needs.

Benefits

  • High capacity
  • Complete removal in just 20–30 minutes
  • Low-cost system, media can be reused
  • Ammonia can be recycled or sold

Applications

  • Agricultural wastewater
  • Food processing plants
  • Fertilizer and chemical plants
  • Textiles (wool)
  • Electroplating
  • Municipal wastewater

Rendering of a Mars outpost under construction

Cryo-Fluid Capacitor

A device for solid-state storage and on-demand distribution of cryogenic fluids

Storage and transfer of fluids such as oxygen, hydrogen, natural gas, nitrogen, and argon is a necessity in many industries. The goal is to store as many fluid molecules as possible in the smallest, most lightweight volume—and to supply those molecules on demand in the end-use application.

Kennedy Space Center has created a cryo-fluid capacitor that capitalizes on the energy storage capacity of liquefied gases and the relative simplicity of high-pressure gas bottles while limiting their drawbacks. By exploiting a unique attribute of nano-porous aerogel, some fluids can be stored at densities on par with liquid, at low to moderate pressure, and then supplied as a gas, on demand, to a point of interest.

Benefits

  • Compact fuel storage
  • Lightweight
  • Low to moderate storage pressures
  • Fast charge-up times
  • On-demand, fast discharges

Applications

  • Spacecraft
  • Space habitats
  • Aircraft and transportation
  • Fuel cells
  • Medical industry


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Langley

Crew works on and around a large demonstration passenger jet

Anti-Insect Coating for Aircraft and More

Hydrophobic epoxy coating keeps insect remains from adhering

Langley Research Center has developed fluorinated alkyl ether-containing epoxies designed as an anti-insect coating. It was developed as a hydrophobic and non-wetting coating for aerodynamic surfaces to prevent accumulation of insect remains, which can lead to airflow disruption and create inefficiencies in aerodynamics.

The coating could be useful in a variety of applications besides aircraft where reduction of insect residue adherence is desirable, such as in the automotive and wind-energy industries.

Benefits

  • Inexpensive and simple to apply
  • Commercially available precursor requires only two chemical reaction
  • Several formulations already flight tested

Applications

  • Aerospace
  • Marine
  • Automotive
  • Wind energy


A quadcopter drone flies above a highway and city

Safe2Ditch

Autonomous crash management to a safe, clear ditch site for small drones

Highly capable small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provide substantial business opportunity, especially if allowed to operate in the suburban market. However, reliability issues mean there needs to be a safety pilot for each vehicle, which is cost-prohibitive for large-scale commercial applications and limits the use of these vehicles to line-of-site operation.

Safe2Ditch is a crash management system that resides on a small onboard processor. The system’s exclusive mission is emergency management: to get the vehicle safely to the ground in the event of an unexpected critical flight issue.

Safe2Ditch uses its intelligent algorithms, knowledge of the local area, and knowledge of the disabled vehicle’s remaining control capacity to select and steer to a crash location that minimizes risk to people and property. As the UAV approaches landing, it uses machine vision to inspect the selected site and ensure that it is clear as expected.

Benefits

  • Compact, lightweight, and low-cost
  • Designed to operate with autopilot systems favored by the UAV market

Applications

  • Home and business deliveries
  • Live remote transmission
  • Real estate management


Marshall

Orange heat glows as plug welding machine heats and fills a hole

Lower-Chatter Friction Pull Plug Welding

New plug design reduces chatter and stalling

In friction stir welding, the heat that melts the metal to create the joint is created by friction, as the stud or other piece is spun extremely quickly. But the pin tool of the welder, which holds and spins the stud, leaves a hole that must be filled.

Friction pull plug welding is the process that fills that hole. When the plug enters the hole, there is often chatter, and sometimes the machine stalls completely. Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center discovered that by optimizing the design of the pull plug, it can be made to contact the hole in such a way that the chatter issue is improved.

This new design makes friction pull plug welding more practical, perhaps even as a future rivet replacement. It has already been used to make space-qualified parts at NASA.

Benefits

  • Eliminates stalling
  • Enables friction pull plug welding on thicker plates
  • Works with more alloys

Applications

  • Potential rivet replacement
  • Aerospace
  • Naval ships, commercial aluminum ships
  • Army lightweight vehicles and hybrid armor
  • High-speed trains made of thick aluminum


Rendering of kite-shaped, thin-membrane solar sail

Efficient Packaging Process for One-Piece Deployable Thin Membrane

Improves packing efficiency to conserve volume and reduces fold count

This technology consists a method for folding a 3-micron-thick polyimide solar sail to fit into a 4- by 6- by 8-inch space. Once in orbit, the solar sail is deployed uniformly from a central hub to power a CubeSat.

Increasing packing efficiency by 25–30 percent, the bowtie folding process avoids pocket voids by folding the sail in a Z-fold along its edge. Once the Z-fold is complete, the material is then rolled onto the center hub. The smaller footprint of the stowed solar sail makes the process more practical and economical.

The folding style, which has not been previously documented, leaves all four corners of the sail exposed. The method is also beneficial for reflective surfaces and avoids the weakening risks associated with traditional folds.

Benefits

  • Cost- and power-efficient
  • Elegant, reproducible
  • Reduces creases
  • Fully tested on Earth, with flight tests scheduled

Applications

  • Solar sail deployment
  • Antenna deployment
  • Tent or habitat packaging
  • Parachute or hang glider packaging
  • Umbrella design


Stennis

Satellite image of California coast with smoke plumes from forest fires outlined in red

Remote Sensing Toolkit

Online portal offers easy access to NASA Earth-observation data

NASA’s policy making remote sensing data freely and publicly available has long benefited the scientific community, other government agencies, and nonprofit organizations—but there is significant untapped potential for commercialization. NASA’s Technology Transfer Program has created an online resource to promote commercial use of this data and the software tools needed to work with it.

Through its constellation of Earth-observation satellites, NASA collects petabytes of data each year. With the Remote Sensing Toolkit, users will now be able to find, analyze, and use the most relevant data for their research, business projects, or conservation efforts. The toolkit provides a simple system that quickly identifies relevant sources based on user input. The toolkit will help users search for data, as well as ready-to-use tools and code to build new tools.

Benefits

  • Easy-to-use data
  • No cost
  • Centralized online repository with unified file formats
  • Includes data from more than 20 satellites and missions
  • Available to U.S. and foreign nationals

Applications

  • Precision agriculture
  • Crop forecasting
  • Conservation
  • Resource management
  • Natural disaster planning and response


Military service member in combat gear looks through binoculars at sunset

PowerFelt

Power-generating coverings and casings fit irregular shapes, draw down heat

Advances in nanomaterials have made it possible to create thermoelectrics using high-temperature polymer composites. These are able to easily conform to large, irregular shapes and can scavenge energy from both movement and heat.

The combination of thermal and vibrational power production is synergistic, generating more power than the sum of the components.

Piezo-thermo-electric PowerFelt can supplement or repace batteries by harvesting energy from heat sources and movements or vibrations. It can remove heat to stabilize temperatures of sensitive components. And it can use thermoelectrics to drive down component temperatures to increase the sensitivity of imagers, solid-state lasers, and other sensors. PowerFelt can provide systems with supplemental or backup power. It can be incorporated into clothing, cell phone holsters, tents, backpacks, and vehicles and can provide power during emergencies.

 

Benefits

  • Easily conforms to irregular surfaces
  • Combines energy scavenged from movement and heat
  • Endless, renewable energy source
  • Eliminates or supplements batteries
  • Cools components for stability or increased detector sensitivity
  • Zero emissions

Applications

  • Clothing and accessories to power devices
  • Vehicles
  • Emergency backup power
  • Detectors, imagers, lasers
  • Aerospace
  • Military

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