A Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) developed for aeronautics research at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California has the potential to solve a number of technical challenges not only for the agency, but also for industries as diverse as medical, power, beverage and automotive.
In the past, collecting aerodynamic data from research aircraft and transmitting it required infrastructure including miles of wires, harnesses to keep those wires in place and bulky sensors that added weight and complexity to aircraft systems.
Armstrong researchers have been working on a simpler, lightweight solution that started out as nearly table sized, but soon will fit in a container the size of a box of cookies, said Allen Parker, the center’s FOSS lead.
“What we can do is only limited by imagination,” Parker said.
FOSS has the potential to be game changing in the way flight instrumentation is envisioned, he added. High-speed monitoring and sensing technology is enabled with efficient algorithms for use in determining strain, shape deformation, temperature, liquid level and operational loads – in real time.
FOSS uses a 40-foot, hair-like optical fiber that provides up to 2,000 data points. The system processes information at rates up to 100 times per second, representing a sizable improvement compared to conventional data acquisition systems.
It is this real-time processing capability that led to NASA’s incorporating FOSS on the X-56 Multi-Utility Technology Testbed experimental aircraft.
The X-56 is tasked with investigating flexible wings to improve safety, efficiency and ride quality. FOSS will enable researchers to see dynamic changes on the wings that could result in flutter by quickly collecting strain data.
The vision and ultimate goal for FOSS are that it will collect information on how aerodynamic forces affect an aircraft in real time and then loop that information directly into the aircraft’s control system for fuel efficiency, safety and create a more comfortable ride for passengers.
“To stick FOSS on an airplane, we have to know that it will work with confidence,” Parker said. “We will decrease the complexity of the systems for the next generation of this technology and leverage as much as we can from commercial off-the-shelf components.”
When FOSS and the number of wires required for robust aircraft and spacecraft systems are simplified, it is anticipated that industry interest will grow for the FOSS technology. Industries such as oil, gas and dairy have inquired about a simpler system that can help with a number of different applications.
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Flight Demonstrations and Capabilities project and Transformative Tools and Technologies project have funded development work to advance the FOSS technology.
FOSS is also being refined for launch vehicles, with a focus on monitoring liquid fuel levels, temperatures and strain on spacecraft.
In partnership with Houston-based United Launch Alliance, the Cryogenic Orbital Testbed (CRYOTE) 3 tank is anticipated for test later this year at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, where the fiber optic system will be examined for effectiveness. Information gathered from that research could improve models and the design of rocket systems.
The NASA Engineering and Safety Center in Virginia also is interested in using FOSS in the construction of composite fuel tanks. The FOSS would provide real-rime data on strain and temperature in the unforgiving environment of space.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense