NASA/EPSCoR Research Awards


SiGeSn Based Photovoltaic Devices for Space Applications

PI – Dr. Fisher Yu, UAF

Co-PI - Dr. Hameed Naseem, UAF

Co-PI - Dr. Mansour Mortazavi, UAPB

Co-PI – Dr. Allan Thomas, UALR

Future space science and human exploration missions require solar power photovoltaic (PV) systems with significantly higher performance such as higher efficiency, higher radiation tolerance, and lower cost than the state-of-art technology based on triple-junction solar cells. Although the recently published Space Power and Energy Storage Roadmap by NASA has set an aggressive goal for space PV to reach 35%, 40%, and 45% efficiency after 5, 10 and 15 years, respectively, the prevailing triple junction PV technology has reached its efficiency upper limit. This project aims to address this issue by developing the next generation high efficiency four junction solar cells for space applications.

The research team includes four researchers from three Arkansas institutions and is supported by four experts from three NASA research centers and four industry partners, in which NASA Glenn Research center and SolAero (formerly Emcore) are the key research and manufacture sites for space PV in US. The team has been historically supported by NASA which resulted in fruitful outcomes and strong collaborations among members leading to this proposal. The team members are world leading researchers on GeSn materials and devices currently maintain almost all world records in this area ranging from material growth to device performance. The team proposes to utilize their world leading research expertise on GeSn materials and devices to develop SiGeSn based PV devices, which could be monolithically integrated with the existing triple-junction cells by providing an optimized 1eV bandgap cell. This approach provides both boosted performance and a low cost manufacture route. The additional benefit is the high radiation tolerance due to the use of SiGeSn material system. The team proposes to extend the concept of MJ solar cells to develop SiGeSn two junction thermophotovoltaic devices, which could provide much higher energy conversion efficiency in radioisotope power systems than thermoelectric converters. A systematic research plan includes: i) Device design and simulation; ii) SiGeSn material growth and characterization; iii) Optical characterization of SiGeSn materials; iv) Development of SiGeSn photoconductor; v) Development of SiGeSn PN junctions.


New Computer Vision Methods for NASA Robotic Planetary Exploration

PI – Dr. Cang Ye, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Miaoqing Huang, UAF)

This proposal addresses a limitation that NASA has in its current robotic autonomy. Mobile robotics has played an important role in NASA’s space exploration. In spite of the great success of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), the current robotic rover requires excess human oversight, e.g., control commands such as way-points specified by a rover-driver on earth, for operating the rover safely. This is because the rover’s stereovision based navigation method is not reliable for fully autonomous operation. The need of human intervention may negatively impact the system’s operation and make robotic surface tasks in deep space impossible. This autonomy limitation will hamper NASA’s vision in implementing a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the Solar System and beyond.

In this project, we will devise innovative computer vision methods based on a new class of 3D imaging sensor Flash LIDAR Camera (FLC) to support autonomous robotic operation in NASA’s future missions. The methods include a robot pose estimation algorithm and a 3D data segmentation method. The pose estimation method include a robot egomotion estimation method, called VR-Odometry (VRO), and an Extended Kalman Filter that tracks the robot’s pose using the VRO output as the robot’s motion model. The VRO may provide more accurate estimation in robot pose change by simultaneously processing the sensor’s intensity and range images. The EKF reduces the accumulative pose error of the VRO along the robot’s trajectory by tracking the extended state vector that consists of the robot pose and a number of visual features step by step. The segmentation method, based on graph theory, can effectively extract flat terrain regions from a range image by a tradeoff between accuracy and computation time. The VRO and the segmentation methods will be implemented on a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) / FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) board to achieve on-board real-time processing. They will be jointly used for autonomous navigation of robot, including robot localization, terrain mapping and path planning. The proposed methods will greatly improve robotic autonomy and positively impact NASA’s robotic technology. The unique combination of the FLC-based computer vision methods and GPU computing technique and the research infrastructure developed through this project will place our team at a competitive position for non-EPSCoR research funding.


Functionalization of Nanomaterials for Photovoltaic Devices

PI – Dr. Omar Manasreh , UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Liangmin Zhang, ASU

The proposed research is focused on the growth and functionalization of semiconductor and metallic nanoparticles for the purpose of fabricating photovoltaic devices that are capable of possessing solar energy conversion efficiency on the order of 40% or better. Two approaches will be followed. The first approach is based on fabricating photovoltaic devices by using CuInSe2 (CIS) and CuInGaSe2 (CIGS) nanocrystals and the second approach is based on devices fabricated from molecular beam epitaxially (MBE) grown InAs quantum dots. Several tasks are constructed in this research proposal to accomplish the ultimate goal of fabricating low cost devices with high conversion efficiencies. These tasks include the following: Growth of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals and metallic nanoparticles; functionalization of the nanocrystals; formation of thin films from the colloidally grown nanocrystals; device fabrication and evaluation. On the other hand, the InAs quantum dot structures will be grown commercially by using the MBE growth technique. The exciton-plasmon coupling effect will be investigated by using short ligands to couple the metallic nanoparticles to the nanomaterials and devices. The approach of forming thin films from nanocrystals is a novel idea based on the growth of (CIS) and (CIGS) nanocrystals with volatile ligands. These ligands can easily be removed upon thermal annealing leaving behind the nanocrystals that can adhere to each other via Ostwald ripening effect to form low defect density thin films. The current state of the art of the CIS and CIGS conversion efficiency is on the order of 14%. This low efficiency is due to the high defect density encountered in the grown CIS and CIGS materials by the conventional vacuum based chemical deposition techniques. It is expected that the proposed low defect density CIS and CIGS thin film will yield device conversion efficiency on the order of 40% or better.


Photoconductive and Photovoltaic Arrays of Inorganic Semiconductor Nanostructures for NASA-Relevant Light Detection, Sensor, and Energy Conversion Applications

PI – Dr. Tansel Karabacak, UALR

Co-PI – Hye-Won Seo, UALR

Co- PI - Robert Engelken, ASU

The outcome of this research is expected to significantly contribute to broader aims of NASA in the search for novel materials and devices. The nanostructured arrays of metal sulfides in the shapes of nanorods/nanosprings can lead to ultra-light weight thin film photodetectors, solar cells, and other sensors (for example, gas) with superior and /or novel sensitivity and energy conversion properties, and further open the possibility of expanding similar nanofabrication approaches to the development of other novel optical, optoelectronic, and sensor/transducer materials and devices, say with other sulfide, oxide, or phosphide materials with nano-morphologies. All of these types of devices are directly relevant to NASA’s long-term space exploration mission, in which new generations of highly sensitive, robust, durable, safe, and ultra-light weight/small footprint components will be required, for example, with renewed moon exploration and an eventual Mars mission. Furthermore, proposed project will have a significant contribution to the scientific infrastructure and economic development efforts in Arkansas through close co-operation with scientists, educators, local companies, and government agencies in the state, for example, the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium, the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, and the National Center for Toxicological Research.


Mobile Surveying for Atmospheric and Near-Surface Gases of Biological Origin

PI – Dr. Gary Anderson, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Cang Ye, UALR

Co- PI - Dr. Edmond Wilson, Harding

Co-PI – Dr. Charles Wu, Harding

We are proposing to develop a system to look for signs of life in a broad region around a landing site on Mars. The system consists of an open path spectrometer on a rover, and is designed to rapidly search an area hundreds of meters or more in diameter around a landing site for water vapor and biogenic gases in the Martian atmosphere. Once a subsurface source of a biogenic gas is detected, the system can localize the source of emissions, enabling NASA to conduct further investigations of the site. The proposed system can answer important science questions about the existence of life or its precursors in the solar system, atmospheric chemistry on Mars, and the presence and distribution of subsurface water on Mars. The work to be performed includes extending the capabilities of the current prototype instrument, integrating the instrument on a mobile robot and performing increasingly more complex field studies to prove the capabilities of the system. The goal of this work is to advance the project to the point where the investigators can successfully compete for a MIDP or ASTEP grant, with an ultimate goal of being included on a Mars mission in the next decade. The proposal builds on the investigator's contacts at Ames research center, as were developed by grants of increasing size from the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium and NASA. The proposal includes outreach activities and plans to include traditionally underrepresented students in the research.


A Census of Supermassive Black Holes in the Universe

PI – Dr. Daniel Kennefick, UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Julia Kennefick, UAF

Co- PI – Dr. Claud Lacey, UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Marcus Seigar, UALR

In its report, NASA’s Beyond Einstein Program: An Architecture for Implementation, the Space Studies Board of the National Academies identified the need to “perform a census of black holes throughout the Universe” as a relevant science goal. Perhaps the most interesting category of black holes in such a census will be supermassive black holes (SMBHs), which reside at the centers of most galaxies. Measuring SMBH masses as a function of look back time is of importance in the study of how SMBHs form and the role they play in the evolution of their host galaxies and the history of structure in the Universe.

We propose three lines of research to estimate masses of SMBHs in galaxies: (1) We will exploit a new relation, recently discovered by this collaboration, between the arm pitch angle of spiral galaxies and the masses of their central SMBHs. (2) We will look for evidence for binary SMBHs in starburst galaxies, which may be the result of galactic mergers. Discovery of binary SMBHs will be relevant to the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission, as LISA will be able to observe gravitational waves between binary SMBHs as they merge. (3) We will use proven spectroscopic techniques to estimate the mass of SMBHs in quasars, at distances of 10-12 billion light-years, to investigate whether the strong evolution in quasar luminosity observed over this epoch is reflected in the SMBH mass function.

Using existing data, from a range of cosmic epochs, we will determine the SMBH mass function. This will provide information on (1) the period of peak quasar luminosity, during which presumably the largest SMBHs grew most rapidly, and (2) quiescent SMBHs, which are the assumed modern day companions to the bright quasars of earlier epochs.

NASA EPSCoR Award 2007

Noninvasive Prospecting for Lunar Ores and Minerals

PI: Haydar Al-Shukri (UALR)

Co-PI: Hanan Mahdi and Alexandru Biris (UALR)

Robert Dunn (Hendrix)

Steve Trigwell and Ellen Arens (ASRC Aerospace/KSC)

NASA is committed to the journey of exploration of the solar system, with its first target, the Moon. For these long time missions to be economically and scientifically feasible, it is crucial for the resources needed for life support (oxygen, water, and energy), habitats and shielding, as well as propellants, be produced in-situ. In order to accomplish this, innovative, robust technology and procedures must be developed for resource prospecting, extraction and beneficiation that could be different from those used on Earth. Noninvasive methods, such as geophysics and remote sensing, became standard procedures for resources prospecting and evaluation on Earth. These technologies lie at the beginning of the value chain and appreciably decrease the cost both in time and capital investment for resource beneficiation on Earth. The same economics will hold true and be amplified in space operations, because of the high cost and logistical problems associated with space delivery of capital equipment. This work focuses on the utilization of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) technologies to identify the presence of under the surface ilmenite (FeTiO3), which is considered one of the most promising minerals for the generation of oxygen and metals such as Fe and Ti. Scientists from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), Hendrix College, NASA Kennedy Space Center, and ASRC Aerospace will work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive method for fast and accurate detection of areas rich in ilmenite (and possibly extended to other minerals that are of interest to NASA) present at and beneath the surface of the Moon. Since the distribution of minerals beneath the Moon surface may not be uniform, the ability to quickly identify those areas with high concentration of the desired minerals is essential for the long-term success of any mission. These areas can be the sites for mineral exploration and extraction. This project is expected to generate a novel method for fast and accurate detection of various minerals, which can be used to support the life and the success of the long time manned NASA missions. The team will implement three independent schemes to study the electromagnetic signatures of a number of minerals that are of high value to NASA’s missions and goals. These schemes are: (1) synthetic modeling of GPR data for specific minerals with different concentration in the simulated lunar soils and rocks. Detection capability will be measured as a function of percentage of mineral concentration in host soil and rock; (2) laboratory measurement of GPR data for natural minerals and ores. The detection capability will be investigated for both percentage of mineral concentration and depth; (3) geophysical fieldwork to collect data for natural deposits of the Tokio formation in southwest Arkansas. Heavy minerals, such as ilmenite, were discovered there and mapped by the Arkansas Geological Commission (AGC) (Hanson, 1997). We will apply GPR surveys in the area to develop high-resolution images of the mineral deposits. Raman Spectroscopy and X-Ray Diffraction will be used to determine percentages of ilmenite and other minerals in Tokio sands and their corresponding mineralogy. The measurement of the dielectric constant and other electric properties will be performed by the NASA collaborators at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Measurement of electric properties and mineral concentration for lunar samples will be conducted at UALR and KSC. These measurements are crucial for synthetic measurements and laboratory extermination. Lunar samples of the Apollo’s missions are available to the research team. The results and analysis of the above three schemes will be integrated to develop ideal procedures for lunar prospecting and the ability to locate in a short time the areas rich in the minerals of interest.

NASA EPSCoR Award 2000

Instrumentation for Diagnosis of a Hybrid Rocket Motor

PI – Dr. Andrew Wright, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Ann Wright, Hendrix

Co- PI – Dr. Warfield Teague, Hendrix

Co-PI – Dr. Edmond Wilson, Harding

This project centers on non-invasive or minimally invasive measurements of a chemical rocket motor. Measurements will be made on UALR's hybrid rocket motor. A mass spectrometer will be used with a novel probe to gather and measure plume constituents. A "snap-shot" UV-Vis spectrometer will be designed to give real time measurement of temperature and species in both the plume and the combustion chamber. A laser diode infrared spectrometer will be developed to look at both water and carbon dioxide in the plume. Two ion probes will be developed to look for metallic components in the plume so as to predict component failures. Particles will be gathered along the plume and the size distribution will be measured off-line. A Laser Doppler Velocimeter will be adapted to measure velocity profiles n both the plume and the combustion chamber. Pressure measurements at the fore and aft position in the motor will be analyzed with chaos codes to determine the nature and extent of the nonlinearity in the rocket combustion process. A thrust sensor will be designed to measure the six independent components of force exerted by the motor. Chemkin chemical reaction code will be used to predict metrics for combustion efficiency for HTPB/oxygen, HTPB/peroxide, and hydrazine/oxidant. A minihybrid will be designed and built to determine the effects of scaling the rocket to smaller scales. MEMS technology will be investigated and a microhybrid will be designed and built.

Original NASA EPSCoR 1993-2001

Cluster 1: Hybrid Rocket Motor Characteristics

PI- Dr. Keith Hudson, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Al Adams, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Rama Reddy, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Warfield Teague, Hendrix

The Hybrid Rocket Combustion cluster is lead by Dr. Keith Hudson at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. This group is researching the combustion instabilities in the hybrid class of rocket motors, which may offer a safer type of rocket motor for future NASA launch capability. Work is focused on studies of physical and chemical parameters of hybrid firings and on using the findings to construct a new computer simulation that can account for the behavior of hybrid rockets (allow scaling up from labscale to flight systems). Laser based spectral techniques are being employed along with Computational Fluid Dynamics and advanced graphic analysis of flows. The project has had 7 faculty, 10 graduate students, 8 undergraduates, 2 Post-Docs, and 2 consultants over the course of the study. It has had 3 peer reviewed publications, with 3 others submitted, and 15 other technical publications. NASA Centers involved have been Stennis, Marshall, and JPL. Stennis Center has supported this project area with several grants/contracts/NASA GSRP awards over the almost four years of the program. Also Hercules Aerospace, ElectroScientific Instruments, and NSF have supported the work, or aspects of the work. An NSF I/UCRC Center is being planned that is a direct take-off of the combustion work done by this project. Related Enterprises are Space Science and Aeronautics.

Cluster 2: Photovoltaic Devices

PI – Dr. Hameed Naseem, UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Simon Ang, UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Bill Brown, UAF

Co-PI – Dr. Robert Engelken, ASU

Co-PI – Roger Hawk, UALR

Multilayer Flexible Photovoltaic Devices is the focus of the cluster based on the campus of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville by Dr. Hameed Naseem. This project involves various applications of solid state surface science, including deposition of silicon by various means and the utilization of different films for the fabrication of photovoltaics, including CdTe/CdS, In2S3, SnS, and Ag2S. This project has had 4 faculty, 7 graduate students, 8 undergraduates, and has four peer reviewed papers submitted, plus five others published. One patent has been filed for. DOE and NSF are interested in this work. Related Enterprises are Earth and Space Science and Human Exploration and Development of Space

Cluster 3: Water Soluble Conductive Polymers

PPI – Dr. Jerry Darsey, UALR

Co-PI – Dr. Tito Viswanathan, UALR

Co-PI – DR. Rose McConnell, UAM

Water Soluble Conducting Polymers is the focus of Dr. Jerry Darsey's cluster at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A portion of work is using computational modeling to predict conducting behavior prior to synthesis, while other researchers make the polymers used in the study. This project involves 3 faculty, 6 graduate students, 4 undergraduates, and has had one Post-Doc. DOE, NSF, and NASA Centers are the focus for further proposals, and this team has contacts at Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers. It has published one peer-reviewed paper, plus 3 others. Related Enterprise is Human Exploration and Development of Space

Cluster 4: Atmospheric Chemistry

PI – Dr. David Chittenden, ASU

Co-PI –Dr. David De Haan, Lyon

Co-PI – Dr. Scott Reeve, ASU

Upper Atmosphere and Lunar Oxygen Chemistry have been the focus of the fourth Arkansas group, headed by Dr. David Chittenden at Arkansas State University. Studies are being conducted on particulate matter using single crystal diffraction patterns, iron oxide in simulated lunar soils, reaction kinetics of halocarbon in the gas phase, and in plasma jet studies. They have used 4 faculty, 10 undergraduates, and are currently hiring a Post-Doc. EPA, NSF, and DOE are institutions that this group has looked to, and they have published 2 peer-reviewed papers, plus 7 others. NASA Ames and JPL have been contacted. Related Enterprises are Earth Science and Human Exploration and Development of Space.

Preparation Grants (Varying Amounts for One Year Awards)

Instrumentation for Diagnosis of a Hybrid Rocket Motor

PI - Dr. Andrew Wright, UALR

Co-PI - Dr. Philipos Loizou, UALR

Co-PI - Dr. Ed Wilson, Harding

Co-PI - Dr. Ann Wright, Hendrix

Co-PI - Dr. Warfield Teague, Hendrix

Cooperative Nonorobots for Planetary Surface Missions

PI - Dr. Gary Anderson, UALR

Co-PI- Dr. Ray Hashemi, UALR

Co-PI - Mr. Murray Clark, ATU

Co-PI - Dr. Ed Wilson, Harding