Researchers at Iowa State University’s Center for Nondestructive Evaluation will continue several projects into the new year that they’re working on for NASA. Center director Bruce Thompson says they’ve received seven million dollars in funding for the projects in the last four years. He says all the projects are related to the structural integrity of vehicles used in space or advanced aviation, and ways to make them less prone to crashes. Thompson says a key example is finding ways to improve the foam that broke off the space shuttle Columbia, leading to its eventual demise. Thompson says the problem there is detecting defects in the foam, and he says that’s hard to do because the foam is nearly all air and hard to measure. Thompson says researchers are using radio waves and a process called “terrahertz radiation” that’s a step above process used in a microwave. He says it turns out that the terrahertz radiation has an ability to penetrate through the foam and provide information about defects. He says it’s a new technology that’s principles have been known for a long time, but there’s new instrumentation now available for its use that Thomas says is driven by the homeland security area. Thompson says the work goes beyond just developing new ways to x-ray and look into materials. It also involves helping figure out what the results of the work means. He says they’ve been very heavily involved in developing computer-based simulation tools to allow people to better interpret the things they’ve learned. Thompson says much of their other work involves developing composite materials. Thompson says an example is work on materials on the new telescope that’ll be used to replace the Hubble Telescope in space. Thompson says the work in Ames helps lay the foundation for the future of space exploration.
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