Sensors & Instrumentation 9

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These training modules were compiled by the Sensors & Instrumentation Technical Discipline Team (TDT).

Lidar for NASA Applications
Presenter Dr. Tso Yee Fan
Published October 2020
Recorded July 2020
Duration 54:20
Tags None
Lidar (light detection and ranging) is a sensing modality that has applications across NASA, such as global terrain mapping, global wind sounding, trace gas mapping, and precision landing. These lidar systems rely on laser transmitters to generate light, and photodetectors to receive the return signal. An example of a recent success, noted in the popular press, is ICESAT-2, which is an instrument used to map Earth’s ice sheets in the polar regions by transmitting short pulses, on the order of a few ns, and measuring the range to the surface by the round-trip time-of-flight of the return photons. The strengths of lidars compared with other sensing modalities are generally high vertical resolution, day and night measurements (as compared with passive optical remote sensing), precision, and specificity (for sensing molecular species). However, lidar systems, particularly for the Earth science applications, have been viewed as risky, immature, and limited – this view primarily driven by the state of laser technology for space missions. This webinar will present an overview of lidars and their NASA applications and then focus on a specific example, global, high-resolution, water-vapor concentration measurements, which has been of interest for over three decades. The main stumbling block for space-based water vapor lidar has been the laser transmitter technology; new developments are bringing hope that this stumbling block can be removed.
Development of High Temperature Smart Sensor Systems
Presenter Dr. Gary W. Hunter
Published July 2020
Recorded October 2018
Duration 57:05
Tags None
Dr. Gary W. Hunter, NASA Glenn Research Center will present the Sensors and Instrumentation Webcast, “Development of High Temperature Smart Sensor Systems,” on Tuesday, October 16 at 2 pm Eastern. Sensors and sensor systems are central to providing improved system operations and situational awareness for a range of aerospace applications. A Smart Sensor System as described here implies at a minimum the use of sensors combined with electronic processing capabilities. A more expansive view of a Smart Sensor System is a complete self-contained sensor system that includes the capabilities for data logging and processing, self-contained power, and an ability to transmit or display informative data to an outside user. One aerospace challenge for the Smart Sensor System approach is application in extreme environments where both the core sensor technology and supporting hardware approach their operational limits. This presentation describes efforts to develop Smart Sensor Systems to enable Intelligent Systems, with an emphasis on high temperature sensors and electronics with the potential for wireless capabilities. Recent work has notably expanded high temperature electronics capabilities and produced the world’s first microcircuits of moderate complexity that have the potential for sustained operation at 500˚C. These circuits are at a level to enable a wide range of on-board data processing, including signal amplification, local processing, and wireless transmission of data. An overview will be given of development of sensors and electronics for a Venus lander, the Long-Lived In-Situ Solar System Explorer, with targeted operational lifetime of at least 60 days on the Venus surface. In summary, it is suggested that small, smart sensor system technologies are an enabling first step towards more intelligent vehicle systems and expanded capabilities across a range of aerospace and planetary applications.
Demonstrating a Galactic Positioning System Using X-ray Emitting Millisecond Pulsars
Presenter Jason Mitchell
Published March 2020
Recorded October 2019
Duration 01:01:05
Tags None
Abstract: Accurate reference clocks are critical to navigation. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), principally the Global Positioning System (GPS), provide the precise space-based clocks that have revolutionized navigation and timekeeping terrestrially and within the Interoperable Space Service Volume (SSV), i.e., near Earth including above the GNSS constellations. Unfortunately, for spacecraft navigation beyond Earth into deep space, GNSS is not available. While GNSS constellations are unavailable to spacecraft in deep space, observing X-ray emissions from rapidly spinning neutron stars, called millisecond pulsars (MSPs), has been shown to fill that gap; a process often referred to as X-ray Navigation (XNAV). MSPs are distributed throughout our galaxy and many pulsate at intervals so regular that they rival terrestrial atomic clocks on long time scales, similar to those clocks contained in GNSS satellites. By carefully timing these pulsations, an XNAV equipped spacecraft can use these celestial lighthouses to autonomously determine its absolute position, with uniform accuracy, anywhere within our Solar System and even beyond. This is in contrast to conventional position determination using Earth-based tracking, in which a communication link back to Earth is required and accuracy degrades as the distance from Earth grows. In this webcast, results will be presented of the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) demonstration, which successfully executed the first on-orbit use of XNAV to perform autonomous onboard and real-time space navigation. SEXTANT was a NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Game Changing Development (GCD) program funded technology enhancement to the Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission, which is currently operating on the International Space Station (ISS).
Actively Tunable Filter Components (ATFCs) Using Phase Change Materials (PCM) for Scientific Instrumentation
Presenter Dr. Hyun Jung Kim
Published January 2020
Recorded December 2019
Duration 53:16
Tags None
Abstract: The presentation addresses the challenge in improving the key scientific component metrics of Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) associated with active tuning filter components (ATFCs). The team at NASA LaRC, working with collaborators, developed an ATFC, an all-solid-state tunable filter, based on a Phase Change Material (PCM) which can operate across the visible and infrared spectrum. Optical filters are critical components in a plethora of NASA Earth and Space science missions. The challenge: The optical filter wheel, when combined with multiple Fabry-Perot filters are used for many NASA missions including SAGE-IV and SCIFLI (Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery). Conventional Fabry-Perot filters offer discrete, static passbands, thus requiring laser filter wheels to accommodate many individual filters. The filter wheel has moving parts, has slow response times and/or provides limited spectral resolution. Our solution: The ATFC is a single-component tunable filter which has the advantage of a robust and continuous tuning bandwidth, allowing for a single component to replace the multiple filters required by the filter wheel. Our major advances include: • A new design concept marrying two distinct physical phenomena: PCM and extraordinary optical transmission are independently well-known. However, by combining their specific benefits in a single novel design, unexplored capabilities have been demonstrated. • Continuously tunable, reversible, operation across the spectral band of interest: The utilization of optically switched, partially crystalline phases of PCM allows for a near continuum of states over the MWIR waveband. • Spectrally agnostic, robust design: A straightforward design modification permits operation from the visible to the MWIR spectral bands, with no major design modifications required; the design is spectrally agnostic. • High transmission efficiency and narrowband performance: Our devices have unrivalled optical performance characteristics. • Real-time thermal imaging using our filters: Using a conventional IR-camera, real-world applicability is shown through tunable multispectral thermal imaging. Future direction: The reduction in volume and weight of the ATFC will enable an instrument to fit within a SmallSat configuration, freeing up available space for other components and reducing the overall cost of the payload. Therefore, the ATFC would become a central component for future Earth science measurement instrumentation. Additionally, the ATFC is applicable to wider multi-and hyper-spectral imaging; from applications in chemical sensing, astronomy, radiometry, and biomedical diagnosis. In the presentation, customizable wavelength filters and their applications will be discussed as well as the future direction of the technology. The team: Mr. Scott Bartram, Mr. Stephen Borg, Dr. Matthew Julian, and Dr. Calum Williams comprise the team. The team acknowledges support from the NASA LaRC FY19 and FY20 CIF/IRAD Program.
Navigation Doppler Lidar: A Velocity and Altitude Sensor for Landing Vehicles
Presenter Dr. Farzin Amzajerdian
Published December 2019
Recorded June 2019
Duration 52:17
Tags None
Instructions: - Add this to your calendar using the "Add to Calendar" link for a convenient 15-minute reminder. - Slides will be available to download in the "Links." - Please submit questions as they arise rather than waiting until the end. - Enjoy! A coherent Doppler lidar has been developed to address NASA’s need for a high-performance, compact, and cost-effective velocity and altitude sensor for use onboard its landing vehicles. Future robotic and manned missions to solar system bodies require precise ground-relative velocity vectors and altitude data to execute complex descent maneuvers and safe soft landing at the pre-designated site. This lidar sensor, referred to as Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), can meet the required performance of landing missions while complying with most vehicle size, mass, and power constraints. Operating from several kilometers altitude, the NDL can provide velocity and range precision with about 2 cm/sec and 2 meters, respectively, dominated by the vehicle motion. The NDL transmits three laser beams at different pointing angles toward the ground and measures range and velocity along each beam using a frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW) technique. The three line-of-sight measurements are then combined in order to determine the three components of the vehicle velocity vector and its altitude relative to the ground. After a series of flight tests onboard helicopters and rocket-powered free-flyer vehicles, the NDL is now being ruggedized for future missions to various destinations in the solar system.
Fast-Light Inertial Sensors
Presenter Dr. David D. Smith
Published October 2019
Recorded June 2019
Duration 54:32
Tags None
Abstract: Fundamental improvements in the precision of inertial sensors are critical for onboard autonomous navigation technologies that can meet the complexities of next generation space missions. A solution to this challenge might involve one of the hottest topics in optical physics to emerge in the last decade: the use of exceptional points or fast light to dramatically increase the sensitivity of optical cavities to changes in optical path length. These effects were directly observed for the first time in experiments at MSFC, which obtained enhancements in sensitivity as large as 360 and led to the first demonstration of the enhancement in a closed-loop device. The boost in sensitivity could enable more rapid and precise inertial measurements, with smaller gyros, translating to greater spacecraft autonomy. I will discuss the challenges and prospects for the improvement of gyroscopes and accelerometers based on these concepts.
Microwave Technology Development for Future Earth Science and Applications from Space
Presenter Dr. David Kunkee
Published June 2019
Recorded November 2018
Duration 01:02:46
Tags None
**Slides available via the "Download Slides" button under "Links." The National Academies released the pre-publication of its consensus study report entitled Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space in 2017 (ESAS 2017). This is the second such decadal survey with the primary objective which “recommendations for the environmental monitoring and Earth science and applications communities for an integrated and sustainable approach to the conduct of the U.S. government’s civilian space-based Earth-system science programs.” In the previous year, NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) commissioned a study to support formulation of recommendations for microwave-based measurements from space that were in formulation within ESAS 2017. The report entitled “2016 NASA ESTO Microwave Technologies Review and Strategy,” contains recommendations for advancement of microwave technologies to enable or to reduce the cost and risk of candidate high-value microwave measurements for Earth Observation from space. This NASA Engineering Network Webinar will provide a brief overview of the ESTO microwave strategy and its application to ESAS 2017. This will be followed by several examples of current technology developments for active and passive microwave instruments. This presentation will be given in three sections by David Kunkee (The Aerospace Corp.), Jeff Piepmeier (Goddard Space Flight Center), and Greg Sadowy (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Antimonide Based Infrared Detectors and Focal Plane Arrays for NASA Applications
Presenter Dr. Sanjay Krishna
Published September 2018
Recorded May 2018
Duration 51:07
Tags None
Mid infrared imaging (3-25 micrometers) has been an important technological tool for the past 60 years since the first report of infrared detectors in 1950s. There has been a dramatic progress in the development of antimonide based detectors and low power electronic devices in the past decade with new materials like InAsSb, InAs/GaSb superlattices and InAs/InAsSb superlattices demonstrating very good performance. One of the unique aspects of the 6.1A family of semiconductors (InAs, GaSb and AlSb) is the ability to engineer the bandstructure to obtain designer band-offsets. Their group recently moved to The Ohio State University where they are setting up new capability for investigation of the antimonide based materials for infrared detectors and focal plane arrays. Their two areas of focus include developing a “materials to manufacturing” capability for realization of these sensors and exploration of novel application for the infrared sensors and imagers. ( In this talk, Dr. Krishna will describe some of the material science and device physics of the antimonide systems. The use of “unipolar barrier engineering” to realize high performance infrared detectors and focal plane arrays will be discussed. He will define the current status of the technology and what are the current scientific and technical challenges. He will discuss some new ideas such as use of superlattices for single carrier impact ionization to realize low noise avalanche photodiodes and (b) using dielectric resonators to increase the signal to noise ratio of infrared detectors. He will also explore the possibility of realizing next generation infrared imaging systems. Using the concept of a bio-inspired infrared retina, I will make a case for an enhanced functionality in the pixel. The key idea is to engineer the pixel such that it not only has the ability to sense multimodal data such as color, polarization, dynamic range and phase but also the intelligence to transmit a reduced data set to the central processing unit.
Nano Chem Sensors
Presenter Dr. Jing Li
Published June 2017
Recorded June 2017
Duration 51:05
Tags None
Nanotechnology offers the ability to work at the molecular level, atom by atom, to create large structures with fundamentally new molecular organization. It is essentially concerned with materials, devices, and systems whose structures and components exhibit novel and significantly improved physical, chemical and biological properties, phenomena, and process control due to their nanoscale size. A nanosensor technology has been developed at NASA Ames using nanostructure, single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs), combined with silicon-based microfabrication and micromachining process. The nanosensors have achieved low detection limit of chemicals in the concentration range of ppm to ppb. More than 16 chemicals have been tested and differentiated. Due to large surface area, low surface energy barrier and high thermal and mechanical stability, nanostructured chemical sensors offer higher sensitivity, lower power consumption and a more robust solution than most state-of-the-art systems making them attractive for space and defense applications, as well as a variety of commercial applications. Leveraging the micromachining technology, the light weight and compact sensors can be fabricated, in wafer scale for mass production, with high yield and at low cost. An example of a sensor module, the first space flown nano device, and a smartphone-sensor will be introduced in this presentation. Such sensors have drawn attention from space community for global weather monitoring, space exploration, life search in the universe, and launch pad fuel leak detection and in-flight cabin air and life support system monitoring, and engine operation monitoring. Additionally, the wireless capability of such sensors can be leveraged to network mobile and fixed-base detection and warning systems for civilian population centers, military bases and battlefields, as well as other high-value or high-risk assets and areas in industry. In this presentation, lessons learned and future direction will be discussed for utilizing the technology for real world applications.