Patent Spotlight

A quick look at some of Boeing’s recent patent activity.

Methods and Apparatus for Performing Propulsion Operations Using Electric Propulsion Systems

U.S. Patent: 9,643,739
Inventors: James Peterka, Glenn Caplin, Richard Aston

Spacecraft, such as satellites, need to perform many types of propulsion operations following launch. Some satellites use cold gas propulsion systems, chemical systems, electric propulsion systems, or various combinations to control their movement. Propulsion operations include deployment, orbit transfer and station keeping. This patent, granted to Boeing in May, describes a fully electric propulsion system.

Some existing satellites use chemical propellants that are costly, highly reactive, weighty and burdensome. Use of electric propulsion systems is not hazardous, does not require onerous handling tools or equipment at the launch site, and are extremely safe to manufacture and operate.

By using an ion propulsion or other electric propulsion system, the mass of the satellite at launch may be reduced by hundreds of kilograms, the mission life may be extended, and the processing, production and launch costs could decrease. The total cost of a launch vehicle can also be cut as a result of a decrease in the size and weight of the satellite. Additionally, using an electric propulsion system enables the satellite to be repositioned into different orbits or orbital slots using substantially less propellant than a chemical or hybrid propulsion system.

Systems and methods for shielding structures from radiation and magnetic field exposure

U.S. Patent Pending
Inventors: Jian Dong, Naveed Hussain

Radiation in outer space typically consists of high energy, charged particles like gamma rays, protons and neutrons. This type of radiation damages human tissues and cells, as well as instrument and communication systems on board space vehicles and stations. The sun occasionally releases significant amounts of ionizing radiation known as coronal mass ejectas (CMEs). Even though CMEs are relatively uncommon, the radiation they potentially inflict upon a crew and equipment of a spacecraft requires shielding.

A need exists for radiation shielding that deflects ion particles in all directions, protects all areas of an internal chamber, is effective over long periods of time, and protects against long term exposure to magnetic fields. Active shielding, like the Earth’s magnetosphere, can deflect radiation particles by creating enough flux density to change the trajectory of radiation particles, thereby diverting the radiation away from the Earth.

This recently published Boeing patent application describes such a system using an active inner shield and active outer shield to protect an interior chamber of a spacecraft. The outer shield generates a magnetic field through and around an outer wall of the spacecraft, and the inner shield deflects radiation away from the interior chamber while redirecting portions of the magnetic field around the interior chamber.

Spacecraft Network Management System and Method

U.S. Patent Pending
Inventors: Brian Thompson, Andrew Riha

There are unique features of a terrestrial network management system (NMS) that limit the usefulness of the terrestrial NMS to a system in space. Specifically, a space-based NMS, being isolated, must maintain a high level of reliability and availability, notwithstanding the increased environmental impacts encountered in space. In addition, the space-based NMS must recover quickly and autonomously.

The spacecraft network management system (SNMS) described in this recently published Boeing patent application is a distributed architecture organized in tiers. A multi-tiered SNMS has several levels of primary management entities, each with the capabilities and responsibilities required for that level plus a watchdog function presiding over all of the primary management entities. The entities contain common elements that manage communications with the software components and are connected with elements in other entities via a dual-band communication approach. The entities collect network management data by polling for it when it is needed and push it whenever network management data has changed. Each entity has a different function, but together they represent all the major functions of any spacecraft network management system.

Tactile Feedback Devices for Configurable Touchscreen Interfaces

U.S. Patent: 9,671,954
Inventors: John M. Jaugilas, Cindy Dorfmann

Modern aircraft cockpits are becoming increasingly advanced with respect avionics displays. Customizable touchscreen displays provide pilots with extensive flexibility to process vast quantities of information. However, touchscreens may require increased pilot visual attention as compared to the manipulation of conventional cockpit controls such as buttons, switches or knobs, which provide pilot and crew with tactile reference points for utilizing with less visual attention.

This Boeing patent describes a tactile feedback device for touchscreen interfaces to provide a user with haptic feedback that increases the accuracy of input to the virtual control of the device. The invention allows for input to a virtual control adjacent to the tactile feedback device or via the tactile feedback device itself.

Thrust Reversers and Methods to Provide Reverse Thrust

U.S. Patent 9,670,875
Inventors: Kurt Erik Acheson, Chen Chuck

Aircraft engines are often provided with thrust reversal mechanisms to slow the aircraft when landing. Known thrust reverser designs can add substantial weight to the engine and reduce the performance of the aircraft, the efficiency of the aircraft, and/or the load that can be borne by the aircraft.

During thrust reversal, instead of being ejected from the rear of the engine to generate forward thrust, the airflow is blocked by a blocking door and directed outward from the nacelle in a generally forward direction via a cascade to generate reverse thrust. As the airflow is directed through the cascade the airflow flows over a diverter fairing portion of the nacelle.

This patent granted to Boeing provides more efficient thrust reversal. An air extractor extracts at least of a portion of air from a volume adjacent the diverter fairing to increase the effectiveness of the cascade vanes, thereby enabling a reduction in the length of the cascade and, thus, a reduction in the weight of the engine. Example thrust reversers disclosed in the patent increase the performance of a multi-door type thrust reverser. As a result, the diverter door may be made smaller without sacrificing performance.

Plasma Actuating Propulsion System for Aerial Vehicles

U.S. Patent 9,670,913
Inventors: Vyacheslav Khozikov, Shengyi Liu

In certain cases for small or micro-/nano-unmanned aerial vehicles (uAV/nAV), the operating envelope includes efficient performance at low or extremely low altitudes (sub-meter to several meters). Functional specifications typically require a propulsion system that efficiently operates in a quiet and hardly detectable manner.

Traditional and advanced means of providing power for uAV/nAV applications include turboprops and flapping wings.  Such systems can be mechanically complex and require power transformation using several stages. Plasma propulsion systems consisting of a single dielectric-barrier discharge unit have been employed, but have resulted in poor efficiency and insufficient power.

This patent specifies a plasma discharge device for accelerating air flow to propel a vehicle that incorporates a nozzle having upstream and downstream ends and a plurality of substantially cylindrical electrodes separated by dielectric spacers.

In a vehicle with this plasma propulsion nozzle, air is introduced through the nozzle inlet. A periodic voltage signal is applied, creating and expelling plasma clusters, introducing momentum change into the air along the interior chamber for exit through the nozzle outlet and producing thrust. Thrust is controlled by varying the frequency, wave shape, and amplitude of the periodic voltage signal.