Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley® Contributes to Space Shuttle Mission
Oak Ridge, Tenn. – Feb. 18, 2011 -- Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley®-based Nucsafe is doing its part to assure the safety of the final Space Shuttle Discovery mission scheduled for later this month.
NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of critically wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is scheduled to command the mission.
Kelly and his crew will depend upon Nucsafe’s back scatter x-ray imaging technology to assure the structural integrity of the space capsule and the enormous external fuel tank. Extremely high quality images allow NASA to inspect carbon composites, heat shield material on the orbiter and spray-on foam protection for the external tank.
“I never imagined a job like this existed,” said Daniel Shedlock, Nucsafe’s director of scatter x-ray imaging. “And we’re not just about the space program. If it’s a vehicle and it moves around, we inspect it. From fighter jets to commercial aircraft, they’re all using x-ray backscatter technology.”
Besides NASA, Nucsafe’s x-ray backscatter clients include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Space Alliance, Gas Technology Institute and Textron Defense Systems.
In future missions, Nucsafe’s x-ray backscatter imaging systems are going to be used to inspect the manned space capsule Orion that sits atop NASA’s next generation ARES I rocket.
Nucsafe is part of a cluster of high tech firms in the Innovation Valley with connections to the space program and the airplane industry. Many of those synergies center around Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which is the Department of Energy’s nation’s largest science laboratory.
ORNL researcher David Erickson leads a team that is well into a five year contract with NASA to study carbon dioxide (CO2) and global conditions from space. In early 2013, NASA is scheduled to launch the OCO-2 satellite. That will enable Erickson and his colleagues at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to make global measurements of atmospheric CO2. To analyze the data, the researchers will make use of ORNL's Jaguar computer, which is one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.
Another ORNL scientist, Edgar Lara-Curizo, contributed materials science expertise to the Columbia investigation and the “Return To Flight” program that made safety improvements.
ORNL is also contributing advanced carbon fiber materials that are extremely lightweight yet strong and can be used in the car, truck and airplane building industries. Some of these materials are now in use in the new Boeing 787. The lab is also studying ways to reduce the cost of carbon fiber production.
Cutting edge research capabilities and commercialization of new technologies help the Innovation Valley technology-led economic development regional partnership recruit new businesses and retain existing businesses. The region promotes workforce development, education, and high tech jobs throughout a five-county area, giving special attention to such promising areas as carbon fiber, advanced materials for the solar industry, nuclear component manufacturing, energy storage systems, instrumentation and bioenergy.