Innovations for Exploration at NASA
Innovations for Exploration at NASA
Working for NASA has some unique challenges that are assisted by developments in portable metrology, and the software SpatialAnalyzer® (SA) by New River Kinematics (NRK). “Everything we make is one of a kind, so we’ve got to get it right. These are billion dollar projects,” said Henry Sampler, an optical physicist for NASA Goddard in Maryland. Right now, Sampler is working on two projects: the James Webb Space Telescope that will replace Hubble in 2014, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that will soon be mapping the surface of the moon. Each of these projects needs the precision metrology that SA brings to the process.
The goal of the LRO project is to find good landing sites on the moon, as well as locating topographical features and resources. This is done through creating an atlas of the moon through different cameras mounted on space craft. The images get stitched together, and Sample says that’s where SA comes in. “You have to know how the cameras point relative to the instrument, so that we can tell where we are in relation to the sun, the earth, and the stars. I’ve made a model of the LRO, with all of the bore site vectors relative to each other, which helps the science group to get their bearings,” Sampler said.
In SA, Sampler creates a model, including all the pointing measurements that have been collected, describing the instruments orientations. “It helps prevent errors, and I used to send pages and pages of data and info to my altitude control guys, now I send a visual model through SA,” he said. Sampler also said that his SA shortcuts save time and that it’s easy for him to share data with his team through SA, especially using the FREE SA Viewer download. In working on the Hubble Space Telescope Project, the crew used SA to fit measurements to the model allowing us to verify that the instruments would fit in when replaced on the Hubble Space Telescope.
Over at NASA Langley in Virginia, SpatialAnalyzer is also advancing innovation. Richard Chattin, a Senior Technician in the Material Processing and Precision Measurements Section, works with metrology devices everyday because his department works with composite modeling development. They are using Leica laser trackers for measurements on the Orion space capsule, specifically the 4-bay crew module.
“We had several trackers with different software, but now we are using SA, which has better support and can be used on all of the equipment,” Chattin said. He also said that the reports generated in SA are more sophisticated. “It’s very powerful software, and I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m looking forward to sitting down and learning more about all the functions,” he said.
Of course, NASA faces tough internal audit procedures and SA offers more efficiency, reporting options, and ease of data review. Many of the contractors are now using SA and both Chattin and Sampler have been working with them to get up to speed. "It's changed the way we do things. Making sure that everyone is on the same page is important. The data we provide can be used by any engineer," Chattin said.
In the case of the James Webb telescope, parts of it are being constructed in decentralized sites because its part of an international effort. Mechanical engineers all over the world are working with SA to coordinate among partners. Sampler said that using the same software has improved communication and confidence--and helped prevent errors.
"I was looking at a model on SA, and it saved me on one of the fixtures because I was able to determine that the line ran right into a wall. Catching this early prevented an international embarassement!" he said.
One of the big differences with SA is that NRK, based in Williamsburg, VA, is committed to accommodating their clients. "If we call with a problem or question, they are there anytime. It helps that they are located nearby, and they have come on site for modification of equipment," Chattin said.
Sampler's been working for NASA for 30 years and he remembers a time when things weren't so easy with regard to software. "I wish I had this when I first got there. The technology has really changed since then--we used to have this rudimentary software, and then a copy of SA came with a Leica tracker. Whoever designed the software really knows what they are doing."
Sampler said he's not surprised to hear that it was designed by engineers who needed software for a project they were working on. "It's easy and does everything we want it to do. If we ask for adjustments, they make it happen," he said.
Chattin agreed, saying that, "The support staff is great. Having that mechanical engineering background helps, because they understand the lingo and there's not much explanation needed."
So, as NASA moves into the next millennium, the advacements of measurement, engineering, and software aid them in their journey. NRK is proud to contribute in those goals.
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