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In Space, Less is More

To help NASA make the most of shrinking budgets, SwRI has developed a family of miniaturized computers and instruments that are as much as 95 percent smaller than comparable systems.

Size and weight are critical factors in spaceflight missions, affecting launch costs in particular. The 5,000-pound Cassini satellite requires a Titan IV launch vehicle at $600 million. A 50-pound satellite, such as the Pluto Express, can be launched by a Delta vehicle at one-tenth the cost, or $60 million.

To meet the requirements imposed by smaller spacecraft, SwRI funded an internal research and development program that has produced the first in a family of miniature 32-bit processors designed to control spaceflight systems and experiments. The Miniaturized Optimized Processor for Space (shown below), known as MOPS, measures a mere 27 cubic inches and delivers 25 million instructions per second. MOPS is a full-capacity, high-performance spaceflight computer comparable in power to current machines that are 300 cubic inches in size; MOPS is a fraction of that size, a reduction of almost 95 percent.

"To produce MOPS, we developed a novel packaging technique," says Dr. Joseph Barfield, director of the Space Systems Department. "Because we needed the standard printed circuit board surface area to mount chips, we developed a flexible board that is essentially folded into a tiny package." Unlike previous systems, these diminutive boxes don't require a large, dedicated area of the spacecraft; they can be tucked into small spaces.

MOPS is one percent the size of the Institute's first spaceflight computer, the SC-1 developed in the early 1980s, and is 50 times more powerful. The new processor is under consideration for several future spaceflight missions.

In addition, SwRI is using internal funding to develop small, low-cost and low-power space sensors. The Miniaturized Optimized Smart Sensor (MOSS), a small, low-power mass spectrometer, measures the mass and velocity of atoms and molecules, using less than one third the power of an equivalent instrument.

In cooperation with Westinghouse, the Institute is developing an even smaller sensor, a mass spectrometer on a chip (MASC). MASC is expected to weigh less than 600 grams while providing the performance of instruments 10 times its size.

See Pluto Express Will Pack Light for a detailed description of another spacecraft instrument designed to reduce weight, power, and cost -- the Highly Integrated Pluto Payload Stystem, or HIPPS.

Wolfe Named ASME Fellow

George K. Wolfe, assistant director of the Marine Technology Department and manager of energy equipment development in the Materials and Structures Division, has been elected a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

He received the honor in recognition of his work in the advancement of pressure vessel technology for both human occupancy submersibles and submarine models for the U.S. Navy. He helped establish the Institute as a high-technology, high-quality fabrication facility for ASME pressure vessels and U.S. Navy model construction used for hydrodynamic and shock testing.

Since joining the Institute in 1970, Wolfe has been responsible for directing all test and development programs involving offshore equipment and large structures such as submarine hulls.

He holds a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from California State Polytechnic University and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas.

Wolfe was formally recognized as a Fellow at the ASME Petroleum Division Awards luncheon held January 30, 1996, in Houston.

Pluto Express Will Pack Light

A team of scientists and engineers from across the United States has designed, built, and completed testing of a lightweight, low cost, low power, multispectral remote sensing instrument package for NASA's proposed Pluto Express mission. Southwest Research Institute is the home institution of this new payload, termed HIPPS (Highly Integrated Pluto Payload System).

Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system, remains unexamined. NASA is expected to launch the Pluto Express spacecraft toward Pluto and its large satellite, Charon, between 2001 and 2003. The three instrument components within HIPPS were chosen and designed to accomplish all the prime science objectives set forth by NASA and its advisory committees for the Pluto Express mission. These include characterization of the morphology and composition of both Pluto and Charon, an in-depth study of Pluto's unique atmosphere, and a search for small satellites.

The compact instrument package is a direct response to the challenge posed by NASA and the planetary science community to conduct focused science missions using smaller, cheaper, and highly integrated spacecraft.

Enclosed in an aluminum box about a cubic foot in volume, HIPPS contains a sensitive visible imaging camera, a sophisticated infrared (IR) mapping spectrometer, an imaging ultraviolet spectrograph, and supporting electronics. The total weight of HIPPS is less than 12 pounds, and the total power required is less than 4 watts. This contrasts sharply with instrument payloads of the late 1980s that had similar capabilities, but were large, heavy, and consumed as much as 95 watts of power.

HIPPS was designed to reduce spacecraft and instrument mass, power, and cost by eliminating unnecessary redundancy between spacecraft and instrument capabilities and by using modern technology. "HIPPS is able to achieve its high performance at low cost by incorporating innovative technologies in its design," notes Dr. Alan Stern, manager of Geophysical, Astrophysical, and Planetary Sciences in SwRI's Instrumentation and Space Research Division and principal investigator of HIPPS.

As an example, the Goddard-designed HIPPS IR imaging spectrometer uses linear variable etalon filter technology to create a "spectrometer-on-a-chip" that weighs less than 1.5 pounds. The three instrument components of HIPPS share a single integrated optical bench. Also, innovative detector techniques such as a time-delay integration camera are being used to reduce payload size and weight and to meld payload and spacecraft functions. The HIPPS housing, as well as its optics, is constructed from monolithic, diamond-turned aluminum, which makes the instrument athermal, lightweight, and inexpensive. Mission operations complexity and costs are reduced by the absence of any moving parts, and the microprocessor electronics are incorporated into the walls of the instrument, eliminating conventional computer boards.

Professor Carolyn Porco of the University of Arizona, a former member of the Voyager team and principal investigator for NASA's Cassini Imaging team, is responsible for the HIPPS imaging science investigation. "HIPPS represents a major departure from the design philosophies of yesteryear embodied in spacecraft like Voyager and Cassini," she says. "Using conventional materials in creative and unconventional ways, the HIPPS team has succeeded in creating an inexpensive instrument that is ideal either for a first-time reconnaissance mission like the Pluto Express or the kind of highly focused science missions on the docket for future planetary exploration." Applications of HIPPS and subsequent derivatives are likely to include detailed examinations of comets and asteroids, studies of Mars, and a proposed look at Earth from orbit.

The engineers and scientists working with SwRI to design and build HIPPS are from Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston; the University of Arizona in Tucson; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. 

SwRI Named Ford Tier 1 Product Development Engineering Service Supplier

Southwest Research Institute has been selected by the Ford Motor Company as a Tier One Preferred Supplier for engineering services.

"Providing more comprehensive service to Ford through this special business relationship is a great opportunity for us," says Dr. Jay M. Lewallen, vice president for Planning and Program Development at SwRI. The Institute has worked on many projects for Ford and has extensive, industry-recognized technical strengths in engineering, design, and testing areas related to automotive vehicles and engines.

The Ford Tier One Preferred Supplier program was designed to develop a world class engineering service supply base for the automotive leader. Business agreements between Ford and preferred suppliers will simplify, streamline, and reduce the costs of engineering services required by Ford's product development operations. 

Faster than a Speeding Bullet: High-Speed Imaging

Southwest Research Institute has acquired an ultra high-speed imaging system that records up to six frames at a rate of 100 million frames per second.

John P. Riegel, manager of ballistics engineering in SwRI's Materials and Structures Division, says the new camera is being applied to ballistic events that range from simulated bird impacts on aircraft to evaluations of spacecraft shielding effectiveness against orbital debris. Both cases illustrate the use of ballistics research to help prevent loss of life and millions of dollars in damage.

The IMACON 468 system has exposure durations as short as 10 nanoseconds, or 10 billionths of a second. To illustrate the incredibly fast speeds involved in some events, Riegel explains that a specially designed shaped charge is used to produce a projectile that moves 36,000 feet (about 7 miles) in one second when launched. The projectile, which borrows on technology used by the military, is used to simulate impacts on spacecraft. With the new camera, the projectile moves only four-thousands of an inch during each exposure, making it possible to obtain critical information about the projectile and its effects on proposed shielding materials.

The imaging system is the first of its type in the United States. It relies on microchannel plate intensifiers and charged coupled devices to create images, which are transferred to a PC through fiber optic cables for electronic processing. The transfer takes about two seconds, making images available for viewing immediately following a test. 

Springer Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Karl J. Springer, vice president of the Automotive Products and Emissions Research Division at SwRI, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded an engineer.

Springer received the honor for his contribution to the design of measurement and control systems to reduce smoke, odor, and other pollutants from diesel and gasoline engines. The appointment was formally announced February 14, 1996, by NAE President Harold Liebowitz. The induction ceremony will take place October 2, 1996, in Washington, D.C.

Springer's career at the Institute began in 1957 and includes more than 30 years of leadership in automotive emissions research. He is internationally known for his pioneering efforts in control of air pollution from all types of motor vehicles. As vice president of the Automotive Products and Emissions Research Division, he oversees a staff of almost 700 engaged in research, testing, and evaluation of diesel and gasoline engine lubricants, fuels, fluids, emissions, and components for automotive, truck, bus, and tractor products.

Springer holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University and a master's degree in physics from Trinity University, and has authored 38 peer-reviewed technical papers and publications. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas, a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and a Diplomate of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers. In 1993, he was named to the Academy of Distinguished Mechanical Engineering Graduates at Texas A&M University.

Published in the Spring 1996 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

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