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Ultrasonic Inspection in Space

NASA is always on the cutting edge of new technology and fosters its implementation for practical applications. NASA has been aware of ultrasonic applications for predictive and preventive maintenance such as:

  • mechanical failure in bearings and gears

  • locating gas leaks and electrical arcing

  • ensuring proper installation of new components

After a ten-year search by NASA for the right device to do the job, CTRL’s UL101 ultrasonic inspection kit was selected and sent to the International Space Station to ensure proper installation of a new airlock and to detect possible gas and vacuum failures. NASA commissioned the UL101 for one year aboard the Space Station, but due to the successful performance of the device, has decided to make it a permanent fixture. NASA is also now in the process of making the UL101 apart of each Orbiter flight mission.

Why Ultrasonic Technology

Why did NASA turn to ultrasonic technology? Ultrasonic technology is simple in its implementation and is very effective. There is no waiting for bubbles to appear or diagnosing of waveforms. An air leak sounds like an air leak and can easily be pin-pointed. A bearing sounds like a bearing, gears sound like gears, and so on. We know what mechanical components are sup-posed to sound like – nice and smooth – but once they begin to wear they quickly produce ultra-sound that sounds like grinding or friction. Once you know what a normal component should sound like, abnormalities stand out. Furthermore, ultrasonic technology is versatile and easy to use. There is no mounting of sensors or scopes. Put on a set of headphones, plug them into the 9-inch long handheld receiver and you’re ready to start. Just float through the Space Station, or walk around your manufacturing facility – the applications are both numerous and diverse.

Ultrasonic Inspection on Earth

So, going beyond maintenance in space, what good is ultrasound to those of us who are a little bit more grounded? There are many similarities be-tween the operations on the Space Station and facilities on Earth. Any disruption to regular procedures and operations is not only inconvenient but also costly and time consuming. It does not matter whether you are in space or on Earth.

Unplanned down-time means lost production, and safety is also critical!

You may ask, are the air leaks in my air system as critical as the ones on the Space Station? You may not die from lack of oxygen if your facility is leaking, but you may faint when you see the cost of not fixing the air leak. The U.S. Dept. of Energy states that a 1/8-inch air leak on a 100 hp compressor costs $2000 per year in lost energy. How many leaks do you have? How much are those leaks costing you?

Maybe you are too busy keeping things running to look for air leaks or you pay someone to do air surveys. Ultrasonic technology can be used to cut trouble-shooting and can prevent un-scheduled downtime. You can predict bearing failure, identify faulty gears, and find internal hydraulic failures. The list is end-less.

Oh, you aren’t concerned with maintenance. You’re the QC guy. Well, what is your biggest warranty problem? Is it oil leaking from your hydraulic products? Do your engines not perform the same as the ones that came off the assembly line last month?

Ultrasonic technology has helped numerous companies provide top of the line, guaranteed products.

Maybe you are a service provider. Save time troubleshooting on each project and have the opportunity to do more service calls. Provide a better, more reliable diagnosis and look better in the eyes of your client.

Are the applications truly end-less? Friction, impact, high and low speed vibration, turbulence, electrical arcing, and ultrasound transmitters create ultrasound. Therefore, mechanical components create ultrasound because they produce friction and impact. Gas and liquid systems create ultrasound because they produce turbulence. Electrical components create ultrasound because they produce arcing. Artificially generated ultrasound is used to fill non-pressurized vessels to check seals and gaskets.

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