Press Release

NASA Technology Named One of Year’s Most Innovative

By SpaceRef Editor
October 21, 2008
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NASA Technology Named One of Year’s Most Innovative

A NASA-developed wireless sensor technology that is damage tolerant and requires no electrical connections was selected by R&D Magazine as one of the year’s 100 most innovative ideas.

Developed by scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., “SansEC Geometric Sensing Patterns” are single electrical components and the simplest, completely functional circuit that can be manufactured today. SansEC competed in an international pool that includes industry, universities, and government labs. The R&D 100 Awards were presented in Chicago on October 16.

NASA scientists originally developed SansEC as a method of having thermal insulation serve as a damage detection system for inflatable space structures and discovered its additional unique qualities as a new way of creating electrical systems.

Offering several improvements over traditional closed-circuit sensors, each open-circuit SansEC sensor uses a single geometric pattern that eliminates the need for electrical connections — SansEC or “without electrical connection” — and needs no solder or other types of mechanical connections such as pressure or screws. It has no “Achilles” point (a point that, when damaged, renders the circuit inoperable) and continues to function even when ripped, punctured, or badly torn.

Unlike other sensors, a SansEC sensor can be designed for measurements unrelated to each other — like temperature and fluid level — and easily switch from one to another or do both simultaneously.

It can be configured to measure some physical quantities or changes without exposing electrical components to harsh environments, like gaseous ammonia or chlorine. And a SansEC sensor can be deposited directly onto any smooth, non-conductive material such as fiberglass. Each sensor can be placed on an adhesive backing and made into a sensing decal or an adhesive roll and used as sensor tape.

Traditional closed-circuit sensors use electrical connections that can be degraded or damaged and have the potential for electrical arcing, but the SansEC open-circuit sensor has no conventional electrical connections making it highly resilient to damage. It operates as a single component and not only weighs less than its closed-circuit counterparts but can be manufactured at a lower cost. It uses fewer materials; requires less time and labor; produces less waste and has a wide range of commercial applications.

Because the electrical connections are eliminated, the choice and combination of conductive material can be used to design sensor arrays in an artistic pattern. Designs could be made for individual sensors, as well.

NASA Langley’s Stanley Woodard and Bryant Taylor of ATK Space Division developed the SansEC technology.

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SpaceRef staff editor.