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December 8, 2010 - Rolling Hills Research Corporation has been selected by NASA for a total of three Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts. 


NASA selected a total of 450 SBIR and 45 STTR research proposals for Phase I funding from small high technology firms and universities, for a total of approximately $50 million.  NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, through its Innovative Partnerships Program, has oversight of the SBIR/STTR program as part of its focus on emerging technologies and efforts to advance technological innovation for agency purposes. NASA partners with U.S. industry to infuse innovative technologies that result from the STTR program into agency missions and help transition technologies into commercially available products and services for other markets.



The proposed innovation is a robust, bio-inspired, and self-contained sensor array for the measurement of shear stress. The proposed system uses commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) components to create a distributed sensor array for the measurement of shear stress in either a flight or ground test environment. The reusable sensor array requires no external wiring or power source. The bio-inspired system is based on mimicking the sensitivity and response of a single hair fiber/receptor neuron to sense flow velocity very near a surface. An array of the hair cell inspired shear sensors are embedded in a flexible, self-adhesive backed sheet of polymide substrate, which also contains a self-contained, battery operated acquisition system. The self-contained blanket array can be quickly and easily applied to aircraft or vehicle surfaces in question. No wiring, external power, or control is required. After testing, the system can be quickly removed and reused. In addition to measurement of shear stress, the sensor array should be able to determine laminar/turbulent boundary-layer transition locations, laminar/turbulent separation and reattachment lines, and shock locations. The proposed bio-inspired shear sensor array promises to provide a robust, realizable, accurate, efficient, and cost effective measurement system.


ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT TESTBED - Teamed with University of Illinois

An all-electric aircraft testbed is proposed to provide a dedicated development environment for the rigorous study and advancement of electrically powered aircraft. The new testbed aircraft will be developed from an existing conventional airframe and provide a dedicated platform to study, design, and test electrically powered propulsion systems for use in commercial, military, and general aviation vehicles. The testbed aircraft will allow various electrical propulsion system technologies to be tested to determine performance, reliability, safety, and cost. These include various battery, fuel cell, super capacitor, and motor technologies. Additionally, the new aircraft could be used to study energy-harvesting solutions including photovoltaics, vortex energy extraction, and piezoelectrics. An electric aircraft has several significant advantages over a conventional internal combustion driven aircraft. These include zero, or near zero emissions, increased reliability and safety with only one moving part, reduced noise and vibration, increased comfort, and reduced maintenance. RHRC and the University of Illinois propose to develop an all-electric testbed aircraft able to systematically evaluate new and existing technologies, which will make these systems, safe, reliable, and cost effective.


LIMITS OF N2O COOLING - Teamed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The proposed project is crucial to enabling safe flight research on a rocket nozzle that is based on our recent innovation, which is to use the refrigerant capabilities of nitrous oxide (N2O) to provide cooling for an aerospike nozzle on hybrid rocket motor using N2O as the oxidizer. The phase change cooling as liquid N2O is flashed from a liquid into a vapor, limits to acceptable levels the erosion of both the nozzle throat and spike, thereby enabling reusable operation and/or long burn times. The N2O used for cooling will be reintroduced into the rocket motor and used to boost performance. Because of potentially the violent exothermic decomposition of N2O, a thorough understanding of N2O behavior is crucial to developing an aerospike nozzle and hybrid rocket motor that are sufficiently safe for flight testing, where cooling the aerospike is necessary to get the burn duration required for good flight tests to yield the illusive flight test data for aerospike nozzles. Our prior work seeking to develop a fundamental understanding of the behavior of N2O when it is used in applications has answered some important questions about the behavior of N2O, yielded significant advances in designing instrumented nozzles for N2O cooling experiments, and generated important advances in making accurate temperature measurements on the coolant flowing in these nozzles. However, our work in developing and validating analytical models for predicting heat transfer coefficients in N2O-cooling applications was only partially successful due to unanticipated levels of uncertainty from a variety of sources. By addressing the sources of the above-mentioned uncertainty using a combination of nozzle design, novel construction, analytical, FEA, and CFD modeling, along with experimental validation of all models, this work will yield the refined models of N2O behavior that are necessary for the future design of safe N2O-cooled aerospike nozzles.


Dr. Mike Kerho will be the Principal Investigator for these research programs.




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