Feb 2, 2021

NASA continues search for new research projects

Six spheres list data found in each category.
Figure 1: Physical Science Informatics System’s six categories of data include Combustion Science, Fluid Physics, Complex Fluids, Fundamental physics, Materials Science, and Biophysics.

There’s good news for scientific researchers working for academic, industrial, and government organizations around the country: NASA’s Physical Sciences Program will soon issue a call for proposals in its quest for new scientific knowledge.

NASA offers researchers access to data collected from completed physical science reduced-gravity flight experiments conducted on the International Space Station, space shuttle flights, free flying spacecraft, commercial cargo flights to and from the space station, or from related ground-based studies. Known as the Physical Science Informatics System (PSI) (see Figure 1), this online database covers experiments broadly conducted in one of six categories (see Figure 2): combustion science, fluid physics, complex fluids, fundamental physics, materials science, and biophysics. While investigators may analyze the data without receiving financial support from NASA, the PSI proposal solicitation asks new and established scientists to describe a study that will take that data and analyze it to provide new insights and knowledge that may benefit future space exploration and/or scientific challenges on Earth.  NASA will award a grant supporting the work of the winners of this competition.

“We started this competition about seven years ago after our then Director of the Physical Sciences program encouraged us to find new ways to share the data being compiled by experiments conducted on the space station; ‘Open Science’ he called it,” says Francis Chiaramonte, program scientist for physical sciences and director of the PSI challenge. “At that time we had about 10 investigations in the physical sciences that had been completed, so we came up with the idea of a competition, where we would award grants to those who developed the best proposals that utilized the data from those investigations. The idea was approved, and our first competition was known as PSI- Appendix A.”

Today, there are 64 past investigations from which to choose, highlighted by the recent conclusion of PSI – Appendix F.

“Basically, we try to find one proposal for each of the categories, although this past year, we had multiple winners in a single category,” says Chiaramonte. “And we want the financial award to be a driver to enter too. That’s why our winners, on average, get an annual grant of $100,000 per year for two years to conduct their research. We hope that amount is also an incentive to those who didn’t win to submit another proposal for the following year.”

The next competition - PSI – Appendix G - accepted proposals  between Sep.15  and Dec. 15, 2020, with winners to be announced in June 2021.

“We want to expand our base of researchers and scientists who can provide us with new insights to the data we’ve acquired over the past two decades,” says Chiaramonte.“We believe that open science applied to the PSI Challenge is an excellent way of doing just that.”

A summary of Appendix F - this year’s 5 winning proposals that demonstrated innovative uses for the archived data include:

South Dakota School Of Mines & Technology;

Investigation of Aspherical Magnetic Particles in Low-Gravity Environments:

Magnetorheological fluids composed of suspensions of magnetic micro-/nano-particles provide numerous opportunities for applications as smart fluids with properties that are tunable when subjected to external magnetic fields. In this work, we will investigate the dynamics and properties of coarsening of spherical and aspherical magnetic particles under different magnetic fields, comparing their results with experimental data of InSPACE, InSPACE-2, InSPACE-3, and InSPACE-3+

University Of Massachusetts, Amherst;

Non-contact measurement of thermal conductivity of undercooled and reactive liquid metals:

We propose to apply new methods, tools, and models to the analysis of experiments from MSL-1 TEMPUS which are in the NASA Physical Sciences Informatics System. These experiments were designed to allow measurements that could not be made on Earth, and to set benchmarks for accuracy and range of measurements.  We will verify and validate the new tools on the MSL-1 data, and establish compatibility.  We will also unlock thermophysical property data gathered on NASA missions, which remains unpublished.

Cornell University;

Enhanced particle tracking in STDC data and its industrial application of Marangoni convection

We propose to extract/understand detailed thermo-fluid mechanics of previous Surface Tension Driven Convection Experiments (STDCE). While these investigations provided invaluable video recordings, only a few papers/reports were published with an outdated particle tracking method in early 1990. Since then, there have been a number of particle tracking methods developed with various filtering functions, sub-pixel identification and more, which would allow us to access more information from in-space STDCE. By revitalizing these STDCE data sets, new knowledge could lead to a better understanding of ground-based industrial drying and cleaning processes of integrated circuits and liquid crystal displays.

University of Maryland, College Park;

Pool Boiling Heat Transfer Mechanisms in Low Gravity: Numerical Experiments of MABE and NPBX Data

The key challenge in developing a proper understanding of nucleate boiling in thermal systems for space environments is the accurate characterization of bubble dynamics and associated heat transfer mechanisms over a wide range of wall superheat and liquid subcooling conditions. Our numerical experiments will recreate the conditions of The Microheater Array Boiling Experiment (MABE) and Nucleate Pool Boiling eXperiment (NPBX) that were flown on the ISS in 2011. The use of the MABE database is instrumental to this endeavor. It will be used to provide the reference dataset that connects heat flux, and in some cases even visualization of nucleate boiling, to different levels of gravity, wall superheat and subcooling. This will allow a unique opportunity for a quantitative assessment of potential improvements in the design of thermal systems in space applications.

University Of Central Florida;

Processing and analysis of the Strata-1 dataset to explore granular mechanics of a realistic system in a long-duration low-gravity environment:

The exploration of small Solar System bodies such as asteroids and moons is essential to understanding the origins of our Solar System. To date there have been few flight experiments that have explored the behavior of layered regolith materials in microgravity, especially complex material assemblages and long-term microgravity environments. Through analysis of flight-based experiments performed in microgravity, we will explore the validity of granular segregation hypotheses that may be used to explain asteroid surface particle (boulder vs. regolith) size distributions. We will then develop empirical models that can be used to inform numerical simulations of granular segregation on asteroids, as well as to interpret remote observations of asteroid surfaces and their evolution. This in turn will also provide a new avenue for acquisition of mission-enabling data for both scientific and exploration missions to a wide range of Solar System bodies.

Stay informed on other exciting BPS research initiatives at: