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How NASA Tracks the Asteroids Flying by Earth

On Wednesday, April 19, an asteroid missed Earth by 1.1 million miles – a distance closer than you might think. This week, Tech Briefs spoke with NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer about the efforts behind tracking this type of flyby.

Posted in: News, News, Aeronautics, Imaging
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NASA Tests Robotic Ice Tools

A robotic claw, one of several innovative tools developed at JPL for exploring icy, ocean worlds like Europa. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Since 2015, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been developing new technologies for use on future missions to ocean worlds. That includes a subsurface probe that could burrow through miles of ice, taking samples along the way; robotic arms that unfold to reach faraway objects; and a projectile launcher for even more distant samples. All these technologies were developed as part of the Ocean Worlds Mobility and Sensing study, a research project funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. Each prototype focuses on obtaining samples from the surface - or below the surface - of an icy moon.

Posted in: News, Data Acquisition, Defense, Motion Control, Automation, Robotics
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New Robotic System Finds and Destroys Explosive Threats

U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground data collector Janet Chasse (left) observes as Spc. Melvinne Owino readies carriages that use a shaped explosive charge to detonate buried explosive threats as part of the Standoff Robotic Explosive Hazard Detection System (SREHD). (Credit: Mr. Mark Schauer (ATEC))

In combat, land mine and improvised explosive device (IED) clearance is a slow, painstaking, stressful job that physically and mentally drains soldiers and military working dogs. Technologies that seek out a variety of explosive hazards and IED components have matured in recent years to the point that semi-autonomous robots can detect, mark, and even destroy buried threats. The latest such system is called the Standoff Robotic Explosive Hazard Detection System (SREHD), and testing is currently underway at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG).

Posted in: News, Defense, Robotics
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Swarms of Autonomous Aerial Vehicles Test New Dogfighting Skills

Georgia Tech Research Institute researchers Evan Hammac (left) and Rick Presley prepare Zephyr aircraft for flight during a live demonstration involving teams from the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Naval Postgraduate School. (U.S. Navy photo by Javier Chagoya)

Aerial dogfighting began more than a century ago in the skies over Europe with propeller-driven fighter aircraft carried aloft on wings of fabric and wood. An event held recently in southern California could mark the beginning of a new chapter in this form of aerial combat.

Posted in: News, Aeronautics, Aerospace, Aviation, Defense, Robotics
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Heated Concrete Could Pave the Way for Ice-Free Runways

Heated test slabs installed at Des Moines International Airport. (Photo: Halil Ceylan)

Iowa State University tested slabs of electrically conductive concrete at Des Moines International Airport. The test slabs are made up of 1 percent carbon fiber and a special mix of cement, sand, and rocks. The carbon fiber allows the concrete to conduct electricity, but there is some resistance to the moving electrons, which creates heat.

Posted in: News, Defense, Sensors
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NASA Puts Dummies to the Test for Airplane Safety

Engineer Greg Dean checks dummies before a fuselage drop test at NASA Langley. (NASA Langley/Kathy Barnstorff)

Ten crash test dummies buckled into seats in a cut-out section of a regional jet fuselage will soon help NASA and the FAA develop new crashworthiness guidelines for future airplane designs. It is part of the FAA's efforts to address how to better assess the airworthiness of new transport planes that contain nonmetallic components. The test also included baggage in the cargo hold to see how the luggage interacts with the subfloor separating it from the dummies.

Posted in: News, Defense, Instrumentation, Measuring Instruments, Test & Measurement
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Report from SPIE 2017: Drones Spot Gas Leaks from the Sky

ANAHEIM, CA. During last week’s SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing 2017 conference, panelists from industry, academia, and government demonstrated how miniaturized sensing platforms, and the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) hosting them, can improve the detection of hazardous gas leakage.

Posted in: News, News, Aerospace, Aviation, Detectors, Sensors
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Sandia Labs Takes Modern Approach to Evaluating Nuclear Weapons

Sandia National Laboratories is transforming how it assesses nuclear weapons in a stockpile made up of weapons at different stages in their lifecycles — some systems that have existed for decades alongside those that have undergone life extension programs. Back when the United States was developing new nuclear weapon systems, weapons typically were either in production or were retired before they aged much more than about 10 years. The U.S. today is no longer designing new systems, so scientists and engineers refurbish weapons to ensure the stockpile will function as intended and that weapons are safe, secure and reliable.

Posted in: News, Defense, Monitoring, Test & Measurement
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Next-Generation Fire Support Systems Boost Lethality

Soldiers view live-stream full-motion video from unmanned aerial vehicles via a smartphone. They access 3-D digital maps to send precision target coordinates. Soldiers are now relying on these advanced technologies to improve lethality and maintain battlefield dominance. These are among the improvements that will be embedded in future fire-support capabilities because the Army has started testing four upgraded systems for its Field Artillery units to provide more accurate and timely fire support to maneuver formations.

Posted in: News, Communications, Wireless, Data Acquisition, Defense, Electronics & Computers
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Navy Chemists Develop Field-Repairable Transparent Armor

Research chemists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have developed and patented a transparent thermoplastic elastomer armor to reduce weight, inherent in most bullet-resistant glass, while maintaining superior ballistic properties. Thermoplastic elastomers are soft, rubbery polymers converted by physical means, rather than a chemical process, to a solid. Consequently, the solidification is reversible and enables damaged armor surfaces to be repaired ‘on-the-fly’ out in the field.

Posted in: News, Defense, Composites, Materials, Plastics
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