Current News

  • Environmental Monitoring Microsensor Array (EMMA) for Free Flying Robots Phase II

    August 2021

    MEI has been selected by NASA to develop a highly compact Environmental Microsensor Array (EMMA) as a payload for free flying Intra-Vehicular Activity (IVA) robots under a Phase II SBIR project. Planned human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit will rely on an orbiting facility near the Moon, called ‘Gateway’ with intermittent human occupation, requiring robust autonomous inspection and diagnostics tools. EMMA will support the Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking (ISAAC) project, by providing autonomous and robotic capabilities that are required for in-flight maintenance (both preventive and corrective) of Gateway during extended periods when crew are not present. EMMA includes machine learning to translate and interpret onboard sensor data (chemicals, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.) within the context of planetary facilities. EMMA’s sensors and machine learning algorithms will establish nominal background conditions throughout the vehicle to identify anomalies and trigger further action. The use of machine learning tools will enable EMMA to recognize changes in patterns and decide if additional investigation is warranted. For example, EMMA can detect “hot spots” indicating a potential fire and use chemical sensors to classify material type and further isolate the source of fire, enabling corrective action (e.g., selectively shutting down affected systems).

  • Solid-State, Electrochemical Micro-Sensors for Atmospheric Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide Measurements at the Surface of Venus Phase III

    July 2020

    MEI has been selected by NASA under a Phase III SBIR project to develop high temperature, solid state sensors to monitor carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the Venus atmosphere. A harsh environment chemical sensor array suitable for measuring key trace species in the Venus atmosphere has been developed by MEI. Currently there are no microsensors suitable to measure the two most abundant species (CO2 ~ 96.5% and N2~ 3.5%) in the Venus atmosphere at high pressure and high temperature, which are supercritical conditions near the Venus surface. The proposed amperometric and potentiometric sensors complement recent and ongoing efforts to support Venus atmospheric analysis, as they are compatible with silicon carbide (SiC) electronics currently under development for Venus chemical sensing instruments. In addition to monitoring the concentration of CO2 and N2 in the Venus atmosphere, the sensors can be used to monitor the atmosphere of Mars, and can support Mars and Lunar In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), for the capture, concentration and utilization of CO2 for the production of propellants and plastics. Future missions which may descend through the atmosphere and operate on the surface of Venus measuring the composition of the atmosphere would also benefit from this new capability to accurately measure small variations of N2 and CO2 concentration.

  • Multi-Parameter Aircraft Life Support Sensor (MPALSS)

    June 2020

    MEI and Honeywell Aerospace will develop a Multi-Parameter Aircraft Life Support Sensor (MPALSS) to provide aircraft-mounted real time monitoring of the breathing gas in the F-35 Life Support System (LSS). The LSS consists of multiple components to produce and deliver oxygen-enriched breathing gas to the pilot, including the On-Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS). The MPALSS will sample from a modified LSS flow interface downstream of the OBOGS before reaching the pilot’s mask. Chemical species sensors including oxygen (O2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and hydrocarbons (HC), and parameters such as humidity, breathing gas pressure, breathing gas flowrate, cabin pressure, and temperature will be evaluated and down selected for integration in the LSS. Design constraints will be defined to ensure the MPALSS will be capable of sensing within the conditions described by AIR STANDARD ACS (ASMG) 4039 and ADV PUB ASMG 4060 Ed 1 v2. The technology will be demonstrated in the altitude, temperature, and G envelope of 5th generation fighter aircraft: (Altitude: 0-50,000 feet, Temperature: -70 to 140°F, Acceleration: -9 to 9 Gs.). Candidate locations for integration of the MPALSS in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be evaluated resulting in trade study assessing suitability for flight experiments versus relevance for fleetwide deployment. The applicable approval entities will be identified, based on location and integration choices. We will develop flow and mechanical interface specifications, such as relevant flow ducts and fittings for integration and candidate mounting locations for probe and electronics. Data integration options will be evaluated, such as analog outputs, interfacing with an IEEE 1394 databus, enabling data to be recorded by the aircraft, coupled with data storage in the MPALSS internal memory of the MPALSS as a backup. The proposed MPALSS can become a standard sensor installed in the LSS of all F-35 variants and will provide real-time monitoring of breathing gas. While the MPALSS will have dedicated electronics, in future installations, the electronics may be integrated into the Seat Portion Assembly (SPA), if the configuration is preferred by the Joint Program Office (JPO). We will leverage mature component technologies to quickly deliver flight qualified prototypes that can be deployed in F-35 aircraft to contribute to root cause investigation of Physiological Events (PE). The product of this program will be flight qualified MPALSS units ready for F-35 flight testing.

  • Venus In-Situ Mineralogy Reaction Array (VIMRA) Sensor Platform Phase II

    June 2020

    The team of MEI, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) and Wesleyan University (WU) has been selected by NASA to develop a Venus In-Situ Mineralogy Reaction Array (VIMRA) Sensor Platform under a Phase II SBIR project. VIMRA is a harsh environment sensor array suitable for measuring reactions of Venus gases with surface minerals using a platform which could be part of the science instrument payload for planetary landers such as the Long Lived In-Situ Solar System Explorer (LLISSE.) The platform will be developed to accommodate a variety of minerals of interest on the surface of Venus. In addition, VIMRA can be used on Venus simulation chambers, such as NASA Glenn Extreme Environment Rig (GEER) for extended durations to support fundamental science. In Phase I the sensor platform operation in Venus simulated surface environments was demonstrated using the JHU/APL Venus Environment Chamber (AVEC). Phase I focused on design and demonstration of sensor material systems and sensing capability with several mineral types of interest for Venus. The electric measurements on the array of minerals could provide information on the type and rate of gas-solid reactions and thus constrain type and rate of atmospheric gas interactions with the minerals in the array. In Phase II, the VIMRA sensor platform will be combined with silicon carbide (SiC) electronics to provide a high temperature capable payload suitable for extended operation on the surface of Venus. The proposed VIMRA will complement recent and ongoing efforts on the development of harsh environment instruments suitable for atmospheric analysis in future Venus missions. The technology can be leveraged for less extreme environments (e.g. desiccated/hydrated minerals on Mars), other harsh environment planetary systems (Mercury), and long-term surface reactions (space weathering).

  • Airborne Carbon Monoxide Sensor for Atmospheric Monitoring

    May 2017

    MEI has been awarded a NOAA SBIR Phase II contract to develop a compact carbon monoxide (CO) sensor suitable for deployment in small UAVs and capable of detecting ppb levels of CO in the atmosphere. Using multiple low cost UAVs flying at different altitudes can provide vertically resolved measurements of CO concentration, CO plume measurements and measurements of propagation of CO in the atmosphere. However, there currently are limited options for adapting commercial chemical sensing technology to payloads compatible with small UAV sensing for CO at the levels required, and with fast response time. The proposed airborne CO sensor will provide a low cost instrument to enable geographical and temporal profiling of CO in the atmosphere.

  • Aircraft Chemical Sensor Arrays for Onboard Engine and Bleed Air Monitoring

    April 2017

    MEI has been awarded a NASA SBIR Phase II contract to develop flight capable chemical microsensor arrays for in-situ monitoring of high temperature bleed air and turbine exhaust in jet engines. There currently is no flight capable instrumentation for real time measurement of high temperature gas streams from engine bleed air or the turbine exhaust. High temperature sensor arrays developed by MEI have been demonstrated for ground tests usage to quantify composition of critical constituents in turbine engine exhaust products, such as oxygen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and unburned hydrocarbons. Ground test demonstrations with high temperature capable (500° to 600°C) solid-state chemical microsensors have shown the potential value for engine health monitoring and detection of engine faults or abnormal operations from ingestion of high moisture levels or particulate from volcanic emissions. This program will mature the technology to support flight operation.

  • Harsh Environment Electronics to Support Monitoring Venus Atmosphere's Composition

    April 2017

    MEI has been awarded a NASA SBIR Phase II contract to develop a high temperature, radiation hard electronics sensing architecture for a high temperature chemical sensor array suitable for measuring key chemical species in the Venus atmosphere. The architecture is based on SiC electronics building blocks developed by NASA GRC which have been demonstrated to operate for thousands of hours at 500°C, which enables development of the electronics for signal conditioning, control and data transmission that can operate at Venus atmosphere without cooling. The use of high temperature electronics which do not require active cooling will enable instrumentation to operate in environments which exceed the 250°C limit of commercial high temperature electronics, in applications such as mining, deep oil drilling, jet engine instrumentation and controls, solid oxide fuel cells, monitoring of geothermal wells, and deep underground mining.

  • Orthogonal Air Quality Sensor Suite

    September 2016

    MEI has been awarded an Air Force Phase II contract to develop an Orthogonal Air Quality Sensor Suite for onboard monitoring of air quality in aircraft. The system combines single species solid state chemical sensors with a miniature ion mobility spectrometer (IMS) to monitor a wide range of potential contaminants of onboard aircraft. Several solid state chemical sensors will be derived from previous research for fire detection and emissions monitoring. The miniature IMS technology will enable detection of a wide range of volatile organic compounds and other vapors, significantly expanding the capabilities of the solid state sensors.

  • Additive Manufacturing Techniques for Fabrication of Payload and Munitions

    September 2016

    MEI has been awarded a Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Phase I contract to demonstrate how additive manufacturing technologies can be used with reactive and high energy materials to create rapid and flexible fabrication of payload and munitions. Reactive payloads formed by additive manufacturing can improve the payload effect/mass ratio by replacing structural elements in the munition that would otherwise be inert. In the future, we anticipate additive manufacturing may be able to create new, highly-controllable and tailored payload effects that would not be possible with traditional munitions. The program will focus on demonstrating the fundamental building blocks and techniques that can facilitate this development process.

  • UAV Based Chemical Sensors for In-situ Volcanic Gas Measurements

    June 2016

    MEI has been awarded a NASA SBIR Phase I contract to develop a low cost, UAV-based microsensor array payload for monitoring volcanic processes such as plume vents and hot lava flows. Arrays of thick and thin film microsensors suitable for operation in harsh environments are packaged with compact electronics and data transmission capability. The lightweight payloads (under 200 grams) can be suspended under a small UAV multi-copter for measurements near lava flows, or can be packaged as a dropsonde and deployed in regions which are too hostile for low altitude UAV flight. The role of UAVs in support of NASA science missions has been expanding, with recent applications including the study of volcanoes to validate atmospheric models and to gain new insight into mechanisms. The role of UAVs is is also expanding in commercial markets, with potential applications including monitoring systems in harsh environments such as deep mines, refineries and chemical plants and automated detection of gas leaks from pipes at plant yards of large industrial complexes.

  • Chemical Microsensors for Cryogenic Purge Line Monitoring

    March 2016

    MEI has been selected to receive a NASA SBIR Phase II award to develop a miniaturized Multi-Species Chemical Microsensor Instrument suitable for real-time, in-situ measurements for monitoring purge effectiveness in cryogenic propellant lines. This is follow-on funding to continue the work started in a Phase I award. Helium is a scarce, strategic and non-renewable natural resource. The absence of real-time measurement of species being purged from systems, results in extended purge cycles and excess helium being used to ensure completely purged lines. The sensors will be designed to be permanently installed in purge and vent lines at cryogenic propellant storage, transfer, test stand and launch facilities. NASA is a major user of helium and significant future cost savings in operations can be realized with improved monitoring of purge activities.

  • Chemical Sensors for UAV-Based Atmospheric Measurements

    May 2015

    MEI has been awarded a NASA SBIR Phase II to develop a chemical microsensor system for UAV-based atmospheric measurements. Chemical species mapping using UAVs enables model validation and the acquisition of new data that complements and augments traditional aerial and satellite data. The proposed system adapts low cost and low power solid-state chemical microsensor technology which has been demonstrated for fire detection and exhaust emission monitoring to airborne measurements.

  • Firefighters/Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency

    August 2015

    MEI is participating in a three year program led by Case Western Reserve University and with participation from NASA Glenn Research Center and firefighters nationwide to develop and test a low cost, wearable sensor system to protect firefighters from respiratory damage and illness. The Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the group an Assistance to Firefighters/Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to make prototypes that include real time monitoring of toxic gases and respiratory particulates. The prototype will alert structural and wildland firefighters of hazards in the air during the phase called “fire overhauling” or “mop up,” when the main fire in buildings, forests or open land have been knocked down and their duties include cleaning up, detecting and preventing secondary fires.