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Recently Issued Patents

Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Earth Multispectral Mapper (GEMM)

  • US Patent Number: 10,732,042

  • Date Issued: 8/4/2020

  • Inventors: Thomas S. Pagano, Joseph Sauvageau, Kim A. Aaron, Curt A. Henry, Dean L. Johnson, James P. McGuire, Fabien Nicaise, Nasrat A. Raouf, Suresh Seshadri, James K. Wolfenbarger

Earth imaging from Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) is an important element of a complete operational weather forecasting system. Imagery from satellites in GEO is available in near real time and allows forecasters to monitor and predict severe weather events at the regional and global scale. Data products from these satellites include cloud properties, wind, dust and aerosol amounts, volcanic ash, land and sea surface temperatures, and profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity.

This patent discloses an instrument that is lightweight, compact, and well suited to use on a standard communications satellite. The instrument uses a multi-spectral imager structured as an array of filters on a focal plane array. Each of the filters is associated with a different set of pixels and handle a different band of wavelengths. In operation, the pixels are read, summed, and then transmitted as images or data sets to the ground and used to generate a weather map or data product.

Several design variants are described in the patent. For example, mirrors can raster scan the field of view from the imager over a region of the Earth's atmosphere, and an adder can form the spectral band sums used for detecting weather conditions in the field of view. This method is called “push broom scanning” and is able to scan a large area of the earth in 15 minutes or less. In another example, a sounder device is coupled to the imager on the satellite, which can then determine altitude of the data being collected.

The GEO Earth Multispectral Mapper (GEMM) may be used for observation of critical near real time weather parameters from a Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) or GEO orbit and uses 21 spectral bands ranging in wavelength from 0.45-14.4 microns.

Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Earth Multispectral Mapper (GEMM)
Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Earth Multispectral Mapper (GEMM)

Method and Apparatus for Omnidirectional Optical Communication

  • US Patent Number: 10,581,525

  • Date Issued: 3/3/2020

  • Inventors: Jose E. Velazco

Spacecraft satellites can function in groups, called constellations. These groups currently use radio frequency (RF) signals for crosslinks (to talk to each other), and for up-links/down-links (to talk to ground). The amount of data that spacecraft collect, capture, and need to communicate is growing rapidly, which is creating a need for faster technology and higher bandwidth compared to RF. RF communications are becoming a bottleneck that limits data transfer. Optical means, such as laser communications using single telescopes, has promise in providing higher data rates, however, it suffers from beam pointing issues.

This invention solves the pointing issue of single telescope laser communications and it allows establishing and maintaining multiple communications links simultaneously. It has been named “OmniOpto,” and the dodecahedron optical transmitter/receiver array is called the inter-spacecraft omnidirectional optical communicator (ISOC) assembly.

The ISOC device uses a multifaceted structure, with numerous laser transmitters, and a steering mechanism. Multiple optical detector receivers are spaced around the unit. An angle-of-arrival detection system points the beams optimally to the communication targets of interest.

OmniOpto can be used for high-speed simultaneous communication among swarms or constellations of spacecraft, and for space/ground communications of voice, data, images, and video.


Ultrafast Omnidirectional Wireless Data Transfer Apparatus and System

  • US Patent Number: 10,707,966

  • Date Issued: 7/7/2020

  • Inventors: Jose E. Velazco

This invention is like the “OmniOpto” above, but it is more general, shorter range, and is not only for spacecraft use, but also for use on the ground, or on the moon for example. It is called “OmniTerra.” Significantly, it is capable of optical communication even in direct sunlight by using very narrow band pass optical filters, on the order of 10 nanometers. Also, multiple transmit lasers are used at various wavelengths which create additional simultaneous channels of communication.

Applications of OmniTerra also include very high speed communications. It will work well for lunar communications since there is no atmosphere or clouds to cause interference.


Hall Effect Thruster Electrical Configuration

  • US Patent Number: 10,480,493

  • Date Issued: 11/19/2019

  • Inventors: Richard R. Hofer, Benjamin A. Jorns, Ira Katz, John R. Brophy

A Hall thruster is an electric engine used for spacecraft propulsion, generating thrust through an electric current that interacts with a magnetic field. This produces an electromagnetic force that accelerates a plasma, which is a very hot, fast-moving noble element gas, typically Xenon or Krypton.

From Newton’s third law, the ejected plasma gas, which has low mass and high velocity, yields a thrust acting in the opposite direction on the engine and spacecraft. The thrust is quite small compared to large chemical rocket motors, but the Hall thruster can operate for a comparatively long time.

Hall thruster technology provides an attractive combination of thrust and specific impulse for a variety of near-Earth missions and, in many cases, it allows for significant reductions in propellant mass and overall system cost compared to conventional chemical propulsion.

Hall thrusters typically operate at 300-400 V in the vacuum of space. This patent discloses improvements in high-voltage operation and increased lifetime, by using improved electrical isolation. Also, an alternate method is disclosed that uses a bias voltage relative to the power supply.

Hall Effect Thruster
Hall Effect Thruster

Low-Power Hall Thruster with an Internally Mounted Low-Current Hollow Cathode

  • US Patent Number: 10,723,489

  • Date Issued: 7/28/2020

  • Inventors: Ryan W. Conversano, Dan M. Goebel, Ira Katz, Richard R. Hofer

A patent was granted for a new design for a Hall thruster engine. It features low power consumption, long life, and high efficiency. The design benefits from an internally mounted ultra-compact low current hollow cathode.

The significantly improved efficiency is attained by a combination of features: a single piece magnetic screen which enables a more efficient internal volume utilization as well as optimal magnetic shielding, an internally mounted cathode that further decreases the footprint of the thruster, and an anode with multiple baffles that generates a highly uniform propellant flow.

Low-Power Hall Thruster
Low-Power Hall Thruster

Method For Manufacturing Bulk Metallic Glass-Based Strain Wave Gear Components

  • US Patent Number: 9,791,032

  • Date Issued: 10/17/2017

  • Inventors: Douglas C. Hofmann, Brian H. Wilcox

Strain wave gears, also known as harmonic drives, are unique gearing systems that can provide high reduction ratios, high torque-to-weight and torque-to-volume ratios, near-zero backlash (which can mitigate the potential wearing of the components), and a host of other benefits. The operation of a strain wave gear relies on a very precisely engineered gearing system. The geometries of the constituent parts of strain wave gears must be fabricated with extreme accuracy in order to provide the desired operation.

Previously, strain wave gears have largely been fabricated from steel, as steel has been demonstrated to possess the requisite materials properties, and steel can be machined into the desired geometries. However, the machining of steel into the constituent components can be fairly expensive. Bulk metallic glass-based (BMG) strain wave gears and strain wave gear components are less expensive to manufacture, can be manufactured in several ways, and last longer.

Manufacturing Bulk Metallic Glass-Based Strain Wave Gear Components


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