Celebrating a Century of Innovation, Exploration, and Discovery in Flight and Space
Congratulations to NASA, and its predecessor NACA, on 100 years of innovation.
BORN IN OHIO. RAISED BY NASA.
THANKS TO NASA, THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY HAS SOARED SINCE ITS BIRTH IN OHIO OVER 100 YEARS AGO.
American heroes like the Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Judith Resnik, combined with industry leading facilities like Wright Patterson Air Force Base and NASA Glenn, have helped give Ohio a rich heritage in the field of aerospace. And NASA has taken what started in Ohio and set a standard for the world to follow. Together, Ohio and NASA have pioneered the aerospace industry.
THE FUTURE IS HAPPENING IN OHIO. GET THERE FIRST.
GET THE WHOLE STORY AT JOBS-OHIO.COM/AEROSPACE
IT IS NOT THE CRITIC WHO COUNTS; THE CREDIT BELONGS TO THE MAN WHO IS AC T UA L LY I N T H E A R E NA , W H O S T R I V E S VA L I A N T LY; WHO ERRS, WHO COMES SHORT AGAIN AND AGAIN; WHO KNOWS G R E AT E N T H U S I A S M S ; WHO SPENDS HIMSELF IN A WORTHY CAUSE; W H O AT T H E B E S T KNOWS IN THE END THE TRIUMPH OF H I G H A C H I E V E M E N T,
I F H E FA I L S , AT L E A S T FA I L S W H I L E D A R I N G G R E AT LY.
©2015 General Motors. Cadillac®
A N D W H O AT T H E W O R S T,
NACA test pilot Lawrence A. Clousing climbs into a Lockheed P-80 jet fighter on Jan. 1, 1948, for a test flight at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, Moffet Field, California.
The Dragon spacecraft attached to the Earth-facing Harmony node of the International Space Station, on SpaceXâ€™s fourth official mission to resupply the ISS.
Since 2006, NASA and SpaceX have enjoyed a strong publicprivate partnership that has advanced space technology and American capability in space. NASA has played a vital role in SpaceX’s success, including the development of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft—the first privately developed spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. SpaceX celebrates NACA’s Centennial and legacy, thanks NASA for its early and ongoing support, and looks forward to working together on the future of American crewed space transport.
UMBC Congratulates NACA on Its First 100 Years From Imagination to Reality: Preparing Tomorrow’s Scientists Together Maryland middle school students work on a robotics project at Goddard Space Flight Center as part of NASA’s Beginning Engineering, Science, and Technology (BEST) program.
GPHI and NASA scientists uncover solar processes, such as why the sun’s corona is hundreds of times hotter than the solar surface. The TRACE spacecraft discovered hypervelocity plasma flows in coronal loops (pictured here), but current missions like the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) provide more detailed information to understand their effect on coronal heating.
As a distinguished research university just 20 miles from Goddard, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) supports NASA’s missions with world-class research: in earth sciences through the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), in heliophysics through the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute (GPHI), and in astronomy through the Center for Space Science and Technology (CSST). From K-12 education and outreach to undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, UMBC works closely with colleagues at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to help today’s students explore career opportunities and graduate studies in science.
Middle school students are working at Goddard with NASA’s Beautiful Earth program to stimulate interest in STEM careers at NASA and in its Earth Science Missions. Images courtesy of NASA.
research.umbc.edu NASA did not select or approve this advertiser and does not endorse and is not responsible for the views or statements contained in this advertisement.
March 3, 2015
Message from the NASA Administrator All of us at NASA are proud of our ongoing role in enabling aeronautical innovation and ingenuity, a research heritage that goes back 100 years to the formation in 1915 of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). March 3, 2015, marks the centenary of this occasion. The NACA was created by Congress over concerns the U.S. was losing its edge in aviation technology to Europe, where World War I was raging. NACA’s mission, in part, was to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution.” Subsequent research by the NACA’s engineers at its world-class laboratories and wind tunnels in Virginia, California and Ohio led to fundamental advances in aeronautics that enabled victory in World War II, propelled supersonic flight, supported national security during the Cold War, and laid the foundation for the space age with NASA’s creation in 1958. During this year – as we celebrate the NACA centennial and our heritage of excellence in aviation research, our aeronautical innovators are continuing to identify ever more complex problems in aviation, while also designing and testing practical solutions using ever more sophisticated tools. Today, NASA is committed to transforming aviation by dramatically reducing its environmental impact, maintaining safety in more crowded skies, and paving the way to revolutionary aircraft shapes and propulsion. Our focus continues to be designing new aircraft and engines that burn less fuel, operate more quietly and generate fewer emissions. At the same time, working with our industry and government partners, NASA will also continue to improve and modernize the nation’s air traffic control system so it can safely handle the colossal influx of additional air traffic expected in the future. We know how important aviation is to all of us. The nation’s economy needs aviation. Passenger travel and cargo shipments generate more than $1.5 trillion in activity while supporting more than 11.8 million jobs. And it’s true that aviation touches all of us every day, whether flying to an important business meeting, visiting loved ones, or even taking overnight delivery of a brand-new smart phone. It is important to remember: at every step along the way; inside cockpits, cabins and jet engines; atop traffic control towers; and from departure gate to arrival terminal at airports everywhere, the DNA of the entire aviation industry is infused with technology that has its roots in NASA research. Just as the NACA did in 1915, NASA today finds solutions to challenges facing the aerospace community that help the nation reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind. Today, more than ever, NASA is with you when you fly. Charles F. Bolden, Jr. NASA Administrator
MISSION: A WORLD OF INNOVATION
FOR OVER 90 YEARS, RAYTHEON HAS ENABLED COUNTLESS MISSIONS BY REMAINING COMMITTED TO A SINGLE ONE: CUSTOMER SUCCESS. FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN TO THE FARTHEST REACHES OF SPACE, FROM REMOTE BATTLEFIELDS TO THE VIRTUAL REALMS OF CYBERSPACE, RAYTHEON TECHNOLOGIES ARE DEPLOYED IN MORE THAN 80 COUNTRIES TO DELIVER INNOVATION IN ALL DOMAINS.
“Blue Marble” image of Earth captured by Raytheon’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite.
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From one early innovator to another, let us continue to ask,
“What’s possible— when the sky is no limit?” wpi.edu/+gobold
14 NACA beginings (1915-1940) By Craig Collins
26 Helping to Win World War II (1940-1945) By Edward Goldstein
38 THE Jet Age and Beyond (1945-1958) By Dwight Jon Zimmerman
48 Aeronautics under NASA (1958-present) By Edward Goldstein
60 Blessed From Birth: The People behind the National Advisory Committee for aeronautics By Walter J. Boyne
68 When NACA was the place to Be
80 Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations By Scott R. Gourley
88 S upporting innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft By Scott R. Gourley
96 Ultra-efficient commercial vehicles By Craig Collins
Congratulations NASA for Leading Us in 100 Years of Innovation! Just as NASA helped pave the way for the advancement of space exploration, PTC is helping companies break ground in creating smart, connected products that will not only power the “Internet of Things,” but will transform innovation competition for the businesses that create, operate, and service them. With a smart, connected product strategy, you can experience true closed-loop product lifecycle management and new opportunities for revenue, innovation, and competitive advantage. • Monitor, control, optimize, and automate products in real time • Innovate faster, more effectively, and with lower market risk • Extend capabilities within and alongside the product Get smart. Get connected. Visit us at PTC.com/go/HBRarticle
contents 106 L eading a transition to Low-Carbon Propulsion By Edward Goldstein
114 Real-Time, System-Wide Safety assurance By Craig Collins
124 a ssured autonomy for aviation transformation By Craig Collins
132 Space Pioneers NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and humankind’s next giant leap By Craig Collins
144 NASA Science: At Work in an Endless Frontier By Edward Goldstein
156 Sp ace Technology Mission Directorate By J.R. Wilson
166 NACA-NASA Partnerships
We Are on Board! NASA ORION Avionics based on
By J.R. Wilson
174 w orking with Academia By J.R. Wilson
182 The Next Generation of Explorers Building NASA’s future workforce By J.R. Wilson
TTTech congratulates NASA on its 100th anniversary
NAC ANASA Celebrating a Century of Innovation, Exploration, and Discovery in Flight and Space
1915-2015 Published by Faircount Media Group 701 North West Shore Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609 Tel: 813.639.1900 www.defensemedianetwork.com www.faircount.com EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Contributing Writers: Walter J. Boyne, Craig Collins, Edward Goldstein, Scott R. Gourley, J.R. Wilson, Dwight Jon Zimmerman DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director: Robin K. McDowall Project Designer: Daniel Mrgan Designer: Kenia Y. Perez-Ayala Ad Traffic Manager: Rebecca Laborde ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Ken Meyer Account Executives: John Caianiello, Brandon Fields, Patrick Pruitt, Bonnie Schneider, Adrian Silva, Geoffrey Weiss OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Business Development: Damion Harte Financial Controller: Robert John Thorne Chief Information Officer: John Madden Business Analytics Manager: Colin Davidson Events Manager: Jim Huston Publisher, North America: Ross Jobson Publisher, Europe: Peter Antell
ÂŠCopyright Faircount LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction of editorial content in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Faircount LLC does not assume responsibility for the advertisements, nor any representation made therein, nor the quality or deliverability of the products themselves. Reproduction of articles and photographs, in whole or in part, contained herein is prohibited without expressed written consent of the publisher, with the exception of reprinting for news media use. Printed in the United States of America. Contents of this publication are not necessarily the official views of, or endorsed by the U.S. government, or NASA. The appearance of advertising in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by NASA or the contractor of the firms, products, or services advertised.
ON the COVER NACA test pilot Paul King, outfitted for high-altitude flight in a fur-lined leather flight suit and oxygen faceplate, prepares for a test flight in a Vought VE-7, 1925. NACA image
Space is our mission...
Since the very beginning of America’s space program, The University of Alabama in Huntsville has been a key NASA partner. From the roar of massive rocket motors to extraordinary scientific discoveries about our planet and beyond, UAH engineers and scientists have worked for decades providing critical design, development and integration of systems required for space operations, exploration and missions. Today, and beyond, UAH scientists and engineers will continue to be a part of NASA’s future — much as it has since the beginning.
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NACA BEGINNINGS By CRAIG COLLINS
O The Wright Experience tested a reproduction of the successful Wright Flyer in NASA Langley's historic Full Scale Tunnel in 2003, in anticipation of a flight at the 100th anniversary celebration. Orville Wright (inset photo from 1922) visited NASA Langley frequently as one of the early members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which established what was then the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory as the first civilian aeronautics lab in the United States.
IN HINDSIGHT, ONE OF THE STRANGEST THINGS ABOUT THE WRIGHT BROTHERS’ 1903 flight of a powered, pilot-controlled aircraft over the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is the quiet interval that followed. It’s tempting to compare this lull to the dizzying aftermath of an earthquake – to declare the Wrights’ invention so revolutionary the world simply didn’t know what to do with it – but the truth is more complicated: True, neither the U.S. military nor private industry clamored to manufacture Wright-designed flying machines after Kitty Hawk, but it’s also true that this reluctance was due, in part, to the Wright brothers’ idiosyncratic character flaws: They were both publicity-shy and stubbornly secretive. For a time, they refused to show their machine to anyone they thought might steal their designs – including the U.S. military, which earlier had backed one of their rivals, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel P. Langley, with a $50,000 grant for flight research. In 1905, Orville and Wilbur Wright simply disassembled their plane and hid the parts for a while. It wasn’t until after the Wrights got over their reticence and performed an astonishing series of demonstration flights in the United States and Europe, in 1908 and 1909, that the airplane really captured the imaginations of the American public and made Orville and Wilbur arguably the most famous people in the world. While the possibility of flight had been underappreciated in the United States, it had already caught on in Europe by the time of the Wrights’ barnstorming tours. Aeronautical research programs had been launched in Russia, Germany, and France, and the most organized approach emerged in the United Kingdom, which formed its own Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1909 – the year the Wrights’ hometown of Dayton, Ohio, finally decided the brothers merited a parade and fireworks.
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O NASA on The Commons16-Foot High-Speed Tunnel(AAL-3782): By testing a North American XP-51B Mustang with cropped wings in the 16-Foot High-Speed Tunnel, Ames researchers traced the source of a serious rumble to the location of the planeâ€™s air scoop below the fuselage. The problem scoop is barely visible below the wing. Lowering it slightly moved it outside the turbulent boundary layer and eliminated the rumble. Note the turntables in the walls for pitch adjustment.
M Many of Langley Laboratory's early experiments focused on ways to reduce aircraft drag. One method was to place a cowling over the engine cylinder heads, much like the hood over the engine of a car. By the end of September 1928, wind tunnel tests of cowling #10 showed a dramatic reduction in drag.
From scientific questions solved by seven instruments built for the Hubble Space Telescope, to mysteries in store for the amazing 25 mirrors built for the James Webb Space Telescopeâ€Ś Bal Ball Aerospace advanced optical technology is transforming our understanding of the universe.
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M An NACA Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” aircraft with a model wing suspended during flight.
Efforts to establish a parallel research infrastructure in the United States foundered, as long-simmering rivalries endured among institutions and government agencies that had spent years placing their bets in the form of dollars funneled to competing researchers. The federal government had all but pulled the plug on flight research after Kitty Hawk, shuttering the disgraced Langley’s lab at the Smithsonian. Nevertheless, a core of American aviation enthusiasts persisted in backing a national center of aeronautical research. At the 1911 inaugural meeting of the American Aeronautical Society, members first raised the idea of federal support for such a laboratory, but infighting persisted until Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott dispatched a pair of fact-finders – Dr. Jerome C. Hunsaker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and physicist Albert Zahm – to the research facilities of Europe. Their report, issued in 1914, pointed to a yawning gap between American and European research – and when war broke out in Europe later that summer, Walcott pressed for legislative action. The new program of federal support for aeronautical research was codified in two short paragraphs buried in the Naval Appropriations Act of 1915. The law’s
precise wording didn’t establish a national laboratory – though it left open the possibility – but granted the president the authority to select 12 unpaid members of an advisory committee for aeronautics, “to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions.” The law also appropriated $5,000 annually for five years, to fund research and administrative expenses. THE FIRST FIVE YEARS In its first meeting, seven weeks after Congress had created this agency, its new members voted to name it the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and organized it into a main committee – an independent agency reporting directly to the president – and an executive committee, which directed the work of the NACA and appointed panels of technical experts who would divide the agency’s work into topical subcommittees.
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N Samuel P. Langley.
M Naca Director George Lewis.
In 1919, the NACA filled two leadership positions that would prove crucial to the next quarter-century of aeronautical research in the United States. Joseph S. Ames, Ph.D., then the NACA’s executive committee chair, hired George W. Lewis, a young aviation pioneer, to run the NACA professional staff for the committee. Lewis was stationed in Washington, where he could more effectively navigate the government and military bureaucracies. He promptly set about recruiting the nation’s best young scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to work on the cutting edge of aeronautical research. Edward Warner, the brilliant young mathematician and engineer who had been educated at Harvard and MIT, became the lab’s chief physicist in early 1919, and became absorbed in the lab’s propeller work and a series of intensive flight experiments – Langley’s first – with a pair of Curtiss JN-4H “Jennies,” borrowed from the Army. He also designed and built Langley’s first wind tunnel: the five-foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel, or AWT, a duplicate of the tunnel Warner had helped to build for Jerome Hunsaker at MIT, itself a duplicate of a wind tunnel the British had in their Advisory Committee labs. Tunnel No. 1 was completed in NACA building 60 in 1920, the year the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was officially dedicated. Based on an older “open-circuit” design, the tunnel was obsolete by the time it began operations; German engineers had already produced a closed-circuit tunnel that allowed
Almost immediately, the NACA began to lay the groundwork for a national aeronautics research center, to include an experimental airfield and laboratories. Congress eventually and grudgingly approved a funding request for site identification and construction, and the committee chose a 1,650-acre tract across the river from Norfolk, Virginia, that offered several advantages: It was near water, which would enable evaluations of over-water flight, and it was flat and relatively clear. It was also near the nation’s capital, the skilled labor market of Newport News, and existing military facilities. Work progressed slowly on the new laboratory. Walcott, chairman of the NACA executive committee and Langley’s successor as secretary of the Smithsonian, used his influence to name the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory after the late Smithsonian secretary, who had been beaten into the air by the Wright brothers, but was nevertheless a pioneer in aeronautics research. The demands of U.S. involvement in World War I, which began in 1917, hindered efforts to construct facilities, conduct research, and attract candidates for leadership positions. The NACA’s first intramural research program, a comparative analysis of different propeller designs, was slow to produce results – Langley investigators began their work with no measuring instruments or wind tunnels – but the executive committee’s 1918 approval of the request to conduct the inquiry was nevertheless a milestone, establishing a precedent for future research authorizations.
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O NACA researchers (left to right) Eastman Jacobs, Shorty Defoe, Malvern Powell, and Harold Turner conduct tests on airfoils in the Variable Density Tunnel in this photo taken on March 15, 1929.
P Fred E. Weick, head of the NACA Propeller Research Tunnel section, 1925-1929, in the rear cockpit of Charles Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius (NR211). Lindbergh is at right. Between them is Tom Hamilton, founder of Hamilton Standard (now Hamilton Sundstrand).
The NACA in the Golden Age of Aviation The day after Langley’s formal dedication, NACA Executive Chair Joseph Ames signed four separate research authorizations. From its inception, Langley’s research program focused largely on aerodynamics, and on the use of the wind tunnel as its primary instrument. NACA engineers knew that data derived from their models in Tunnel No. 1 did not scale up accurately; numerous variables, such as atmospheric pressure, often threw their estimates way off. They needed tunnels, like those being built in Germany, that would allow them to control for those variables. One of Germany’s brightest aeronautical engineers, Max Munk, Ph.D., of the University of Göttingen, was ready and willing to settle in America, but because Munk had worked briefly for the German navy during
World War I, it took two separate orders from President Woodrow Wilson to bring him to Langley. An expert in airfoils, Munk began developing NACA’s second wind tunnel, the Variable Density Tunnel (VDT), in 1921. Engineers began testing in the VDT the following year, and it soon proved far more valuable than Tunnel No. 1: Scaled-down models could be evaluated in an environment pressurized in accordance with
N NACA Executive Chair Joseph Ames.
investigators to control for pressure and humidity. Still, the project was an illustrative example of the committee’s first five years: While the NACA wasn’t yet providing the world with earth-shaking aeronautical findings, it was an institution with clearly defined roles and procedures, a new laboratory, and a growing number of eager young minds ready to tackle the problems of flight.
their size, yielding far more reliable results. The VDT quickly earned a reputation as one of the world’s premier sources for aerodynamic data. Meanwhile, NACA’s program of full-scale flight tests continued at the adjacent Langley Field, where a 2-milelong runway was built in 1923 to accommodate highspeed tests. One of the first applications to be evaluated in test flights – and in Langley’s new engine research facility – was the Roots-type supercharger, which the Navy’s Bureau of Aviation believed could enable carrier-based aircraft to achieve faster climbs to altitude. The reliability of wind tunnel airfoil data, also, was established during high-speed flights performed by the NACA’s Curtiss Jennies – which now were accompanied by several other borrowed aircraft in the committee’s growing research fleet. In 1924, NACA purchased its first aircraft, a Boeing PW-9, built expressly for research. By the following year, Langley had 19 different aircraft dedicated to a variety of test operations.
One of the longest and most intensive research programs during the NACA’s first two decades was a series of evaluations of the pressure loads borne by airframes under stresses encountered during high-speed maneuvers. Undertaken after a series of Army Air Service crashes and fatalities, the NACA’s pressure-load research occupied some of Langley’s brightest minds for eight years. Pressure-load test flights began at Langley in 1926, the year Henry J.E. Reid became the lab’s new engineer-in-charge, a post he would retain for more than three decades. First a Curtiss JNS-1 and then the PW-9 – a stocky, heavily braced airplane – were subjected to almost every conceivable maneuver and condition of flight. During level flight, spins, loops, pull-ups, inversions, and dives, all the aircrafts’ main surfaces underwent moment-to-moment stress analysis at multiple points on the wings, elevators, vertical tails, rudders, and horizontal stabilizers.
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The wind tunnels, meanwhile, proved useful in addressing questions that test flights couldn’t answer, and gave NACA engineers useful data about the proper sizing of pressure orifices. Test flights and wind tunnel tests often raised more questions than they answered, opening new avenues of inquiry – and by the late 1920s, pressure-load data coming out of Langley was changing the way aircraft were being designed and manufactured. The laboratory’s work had also, in the meantime, earned the NACA an international reputation as one of the world’s preeminent aeronautical research institutions. The technical and procedural experience gained by the NACA in its pressure-load investigations enabled the committee to undertake a number of other programs. Some of these research problems could be investigated with instrumentation and test flights, while others required a multi-pronged approach that included ground-based modeling. Within a period of five years, the NACA launched a wave of tunnel construction. The new facilities included: • The Propeller Research Tunnel (completed in 1927). Built to correlate NACA data with tests conducted at
Stanford University, the diesel-powered tunnel created a 20-foot-wide airstream that reached 110 miles per hour. • The 11-inch Hypersonic Tunnel (1928) allowed researchers to investigate aerodynamic effects near the speed of sound. • The 5-foot Vertical Wind Tunnel (1929) enabled researchers to analyze the spin recovery of models without risk to pilots or aircraft. • The 7 by 10 foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel (1930), a replacement for Tunnel No. 1, enabled studies of stability and control in the low-speed range. • The Full-Scale (30 by 60 foot) Tunnel (FST), the largest wind tunnel in the world until 1945, allowed an approximation of free-flight conditions by bringing entire aircraft indoors. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985, the FST was in operation for 64 years before being retired in 1995.
M Langley metal workers fabricating NACA cowlings for early test installations.
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By the beginning of the 1930s, the NACA’s collection of wind tunnels at Langley comprised the greatest aeronautical research capability in the world – and one of the era’s greatest advances would be developed in the Propeller Research Tunnel, beginning in 1927. After World War I, most American planes used aircooled radial engines, with cylinders arranged around the propeller drive shaft – and the exposed cylinders created considerable drag. But the drawbacks associated with liquid-cooled engines, such as the weight of their liquid cooling systems, were more considerable – especially for the Navy, whose planes were required to withstand jarring impacts with carrier decks and needed the superior reliability of radial engines for over-water flight. The Bureau of Aviation asked the NACA to look into the possibility of using a circular cowling to reduce the drag created by radial engines while still allowing adequate cooling. The 20-foot radius of the Propeller Research Tunnel enabled testing on a full-sized airplane, and NACA engineer Fred E. Weick and his staff, by November 1928, had produced a cowling that significantly reduced drag and, in directing rapid airflow around the engine’s hottest components, actually improved cooling. When Weick fitted his cowling around the engine of a Curtiss Hawk AT-5A biplane, the result was astonishing: The Hawk’s top speed increased from 118 to 137 miles per hour, a 16 percent increase. The NACA cowling was a crowning achievement for the NACA and its Langley technicians, reducing overall drag by as much as 60 percent and saving the aircraft industry millions of dollars. In 1929, the cowling earned Weick and Langley the first Robert J. Collier Trophy, an honor bestowed annually by the National Aeronautics Association for the most significant contributions to aeronautics research. By 1932, virtually every radial-engine aircraft was equipped with a variant of the NACA cowling. Toward War The NACA emerged from the 1920s a renowned and influential center of aeronautical research, and throughout the next decade the findings of its technicians continued to alter the look and feel of modern aircraft. Testing at Langley revealed, for example, that fixed landing gear accounted for nearly 40 percent of an aircraft’s total drag; that dual engines were best mounted as part of the wings’ overall structures; that positioning wings on the lower part of the fuselage improved lift and eliminated the need for heavy struts. Aircraft manufacturers adapted in accordance with these new findings, producing low-slung monoplanes with retractable landing gear and streamlined engine nacelles built into the wings.
Langley engineers also set out to examine the increasingly strenuous task of piloting transports and bombers that had grown larger and heavier – and therefore difficult to maneuver and slow to respond. The work of quantifying the “feel” and responsiveness of aircraft controls was a tall order, but carefully designed evaluations of several large aircraft, including the Douglas DC-3 transport plane and the experimental DC-4E, yielded design recommendations that led to important changes in specifications for the control and stability characteristics of military airplanes. Another influential area of research was the laminar flow wing developed at Langley and used in the design of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, perhaps the best fighter flown by the Army Air Forces during World War II. As war overtook Europe, NACA representative John Jay Ide sent frequent dispatches describing research and development facilities in France, Italy, Russia, and especially Germany, being built to surpass NACA facilities. After touring the continent in 1936, George Lewis urged Congress to pass a supplemental appropriation for a new propeller research tunnel. He also requested the formation of a special committee on the Relation of the NACA to National Defense in Time of War. This committee, chaired by Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, chief of the Army Air Corps, recommended in its 1938 report that the NACA build a laboratory on the West Coast or in the interior, to reduce the vulnerability associated with keeping the government’s aeronautical expertise concentrated in one location. The laboratory that eventually resulted, located at a longtime naval airship station at Moffett Field on the shore of San Francisco Bay, was named in honor of Dr. Joseph Ames, the founding member of the NACA who had resigned as executive committee chair in 1936. The Ames Aeronautical Laboratory opened in 1940. While Ames was being authorized by Congress, a group of advocates, bolstered by famed aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, took up the cause for a third NACA research center, one focused on engine research that would help American aircraft compete with the high-performance, liquid-cooled engine designs of German, French, and British military planes. In June 1940 – the month in which France capitulated to Germany – Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland’s Flight Research Building opened at the end of 1941. The laboratory’s first director, Edward Sharp, hastened to Ohio after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor – but with no administrative space yet available, Sharp and his technical assistants set themselves up at a nearby farmhouse and got down to work. The NACA had put the pieces in place – just in time, as it turned out – to lead a new generation of advances in aeronautical research. l
M By testing a North American XP-51B Mustang with cropped wings in the 16-foot High-Speed Tunnel, Ames researchers traced the source of a serious rumble to the location of the planeâ€™s radiator cooling scoop below the fuselage. The problem scoop is barely visible below the wing. Lowering it slightly moved it outside the turbulent boundary layer and eliminated the rumble. Note the turntables in the walls for pitch adjustment.
H e l p i n g to w i n WWII : 194 0 -194 5
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helping to win World War II
By edward goldstein
A few months after the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and his son John – then an Army second lieutenant – walked along the Normandy beaches and pondered the course of the war. “You’d never get away with this if you didn’t have air supremacy,” the son told his father. “Without air supremacy,” the general responded, “I wouldn’t be here.” On April 11, 1946, Eisenhower visited the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio (today the NASA John Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field), to personally thank the NACA staff for their role in helping to provide the Allied air forces with control of the skies over the European theater of operations. A beaming Dr. Edward Sharp, the lab’s first director, reveled in Ike’s acknowledgement of NACA’s role. The Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, whose research began on May 8, 1942, and the NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in Mountain View, California, formed Dec. 20, 1939, plus the expansion of the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, were the physical manifestations of an NACA that grew dramatically due to the late 1930s concern that some areas of American aeronautical research were falling behind the Europeans, and the nation needed to catch up should it be dragged into war. The expansion of the NACA staff and budget from about 500 people and $4 million at the beginning of World War II to more than 6,000 people and $41 million by war’s end1 was also indicative of the importance America placed on applied aeronautical research tied directly to the operational needs of the U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. naval aviation, as opposed to the fundamental basic research that the NACA was used to conducting.
To be certain, the aviation advantage we eventually achieved on both the European and Pacific fronts of the war was due to the efforts of many parties â€“ the Army Air Corps, Navy, industry, university labs, our Allies, and the NACA. And as has often been pointed out, the NACA and the rest of the American aviation establishment fell short during World War II when it came to keeping up with British and German advances in jet aviation, and in the case of Germany, rocket propulsion. While there were American scientists familiar with jet and rocket propulsion, the national and military leadership decided it was best to devote resources toward improving the performance of existing technologies and concentrate on mass production. But clearly the NACA made many significant contributions to the war effort, including improving the speed, range, and maneuverability of aircraft through meticulous work on drag cleanup; the use of improved airfoils to reduce drag and better aerodynamic engine cooling; the development of deicing systems used to save the lives of airmen flying in the most difficult of weather conditions; improving the performance of high-powered piston engines; increasing aircraft stability, control, and handling qualities; and giving pilots a fighting chance of survival when they had to ditch their planes in the ocean.
M NACA displays at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL).
P A Bell P-39D Airacobra at Langley in 1943. The NACA performed valuable dragreduction research that increased the XP-39Bâ€™s top speed without a costly redesign of the aircraft.
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Buffeted by the Winds of War NACA’s World War II story, and a fundamental change in the size and scope of the organization and approach to research, actually begins in the prewar years, when the Committee’s man in Europe, Paris-based John J. Ide, in 1936 reported to the home office on greatly expanded aeronautical research efforts in England, France, Italy, and Germany.2 In 1936, George Lewis, NACA’s Director of Aeronautical Research, inserted a deft warning to the government in the NACA’s annual report, stating that “increased recognition abroad of the value and of the vital necessity of aeronautical research has led to recent tremendous expansion in research programs and to multiplication of research facilities by other progressive nations. Thus has the foundation been laid for a serious challenge to America’s present leadership in the technical development of aircraft.” In September-October of that year Lewis flew to Germany aboard the airship Hindenburg, in part because of these developments and in part because of an invitation by Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei. Once there, he received a complete guided tour of German aerospace research facilities and was both impressed and disquieted by their activities. Reflecting on Germany’s commitment to exceeding American aeronautics facilities, Lewis reported back, “The cost is not considered.” He also
reported that “the personnel of the German research laboratories is [sic] larger in number, and the engineers have the opportunity of having special training, which has not been afforded to many of our own engineers.” States former NASA historian Roger Launius, currently
Associate Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the Lewis trip “really set them [NACA] on a new path where they realized that they needed to do high-speed work, that they needed to do more wind tunnels, that they needed to do propulsion research that they really hadn’t done much of. They sort of woke up and said, ‘Oh my God. We need to get busy.’” Lewis’ reporting led to the formation of a “Special Committee on Relation of NACA to National Defense in Time of War,” which recommended in 1938 a Mobilization Plan to build another laboratory (Ames) to relieve the workload on Langley and to disperse NACA’s research facilities so they would be less vulnerable to attack. The concern for shore-based Langley was real; it was threatened by potential U-boat attacks, and its streets and buildings were camouflaged throughout the war. The selection of Ames, near today’s Silicon Valley, led to vulnerabilities to Japanese attacks, which were considered at the time. But as Launius points out, “As much as anything it was about the fact that this is where the aeronautical industry is located by and large, and Langley was too far away.” He believes the facility should have been located in Southern California, where the aviation industry was largely located, but perhaps represented a compromise to allow some greater proximity to Seattle-based Boeing. This move was followed up by a recommendation of NACA’s Special Committee on Aeronautical Research Facilities, chaired by Charles Lindbergh, which “urgently recommend[ed] that an engine research laboratory be constructed at the earliest possible date, in a location easily accessible to the aircraftengine industry.” The lack of sufficient engine research at that time stemmed from institutional reasons. “At Langley, they gave the best wind tunnels in the world to their researchers,” said Launius. “As a result, the whole agency was pushed toward aerodynamics. So they did little materials work, they did very little engines work,3 they did very little stability work. Those sorts of things were less than aerodynamics. They did great work in airfoils and streamlining. They did work on propellers as opposed to the engines because of their aerodynamics capability. By putting that tool in their hand that’s a very important thing,
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but it didn’t necessarily push them to really answer the kinds of questions that you would really want in a wartime setting. They were tailor-made to do drag cleanup because they had the wind tunnels. They knew how to use them. A lot of the other things they were less equipped to do.” There was also a historical reason for the dearth of engine research. Participants at a 1916 aviation-engine manufacturers’ conference sponsored by the NACA agreed to leave it up to the automobile industry and the new engine manufacturers that sprang from that industry to conduct their own research and development. This issue wasn’t revisited until war was looming. In his NACA history, Model Research, Alex Roland said the requirements of the war “entailed far less fundamental research than the Committee was wont to conduct. The NACA would be drawn instead into testing, cleanup, and refinement of military prototypes of immediate use in the war. Long-range research
leading to improved aircraft in the future would have to be abandoned for the duration.”4 But as Joseph R. Chambers, who in the postwar years, ran NASA Langley’s Full Scale Tunnel, observed, “To me the most important thing that the NACA did for the country in World War II was the fact that the country had invested in the NACA facilities and in the expertise that went into those facilities and they were ready when the war came about. Had the country not made the investment in those facilities and the expertise that the people had, we would have been in really bad shape.” Giving Our Airmen the Edge When the United States entered the war, the NACA team went all out. “The staff worked six days a week,” noted Chambers. “No vacations. One of the old timers told me in the full-scale wind tunnel in August how terribly hot it was and working night shifts there and have the director of the lab walk in at 1:00 a.m. in the morning and see those guys wearing nothing but jock straps and scrambling to get their clothes on. [Tom] Brokaw got it right. They were really the greatest generation.”
M Drag cleanup tests were conducted on the Lockheed YP-38 Lightning in the 30 x 60 Full Scale Tunnel in December 1941. Later models of the P-38 incorporated dive flaps on their wings, developed through NACA research, to overcome compressibility issues.
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Texas State University is proud of its longstanding relationship with NASA, and the diverse range of cutting-edge, applied research opportunities that engage our faculty and students.
2014 Jacobs Engineering Collaboration on advanced engineering and science work for Johnson Space Center includes projects for the International Space Station and manned missions to Mars.
Training Teachers in STEM Texas State is the only university in the nation to receive a NASA grant to promote innovative methods for teacher education in STEM. It is expected to impact over 400,000 educators throughout the U.S.
2013 Land Management Impacts On Water Quality Texas State researchers are using NASA satellite imagery to examine land use and land cover change in New Zealand. The country was selected as a case study because it is a model for regional land management and environmental sustainability. Results from this research will set a precedent for future considerations of catchment-based governance around the world.
2014 Mars Drill Design and Automation Senior engineering students are developing concepts for a fully robotic drilling system capable of drilling up to 20 meters into the surface of planet Mars.
2003 2004 High Performance Polymers Texas State research on high-performance fluorinated polymer materials for space application resulted in two patents with NASA co-inventors. From this work, a polymer tested for low earth orbital environmental resistance also went aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Columbia Shuttle On the STS-107, biofilm formation and microbial competition was conducted as a follow up experiment to STS-95. A small sample of Texas Stateâ€™s payload survived the tragic Columbia explosion during reentry to Earth.
1998 John Glenn Shuttle Research on board STS-95 to demonstrate that bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, could form biofilms under weightless conditions.
1971 First NASA Funding at Texas State An initial grant was awarded to study agents as adhesive polymers. The research focused on the synthesis, development and testing of polymer materials used for space exploration.
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O The North American XP-51 Mustang was the first aircraft to incorporate an NACA laminar-flow airfoil. This is the second XP-51, which arrived at Langley in March 1943.
While not a dramatic scientific breakthrough, drag cleanup and reduction conducted at NACA Langley and Ames – the painstaking work to minimize airplane resistance to airflow – led to significant speed increases in our military aircraft. Beginning in 1938, Langley researchers using the famous “Cave of the Winds” Full-Scale Wind Tunnel developed a new method to measure the drag produced by every part of an airplane and make recommendations to the manufacturer about reducing drag. The military, which had before the war assumed responsibility for drag reduction work, basically turned it over to the NACA, and allowed its researchers to test virtually every new prototype both in wind tunnels and in flight. An example of the efficacy of drag cleanup was the predicted increase in the top flying speed of the Bell P-39 Airacobra from 340 mph to 392. The NACA scientists recommended a series of detail changes that could greatly increase the aircraft’s speed without a costly redesign, but the 392 mph figure depended upon the aircraft’s original turbosupercharged power plant, and an aircraft that weighed in the neighborhood of 5,500 pounds. “Figuring out a way to build a 400 mph fighter at level flight and to get to that kind of speed was a big deal,” noted Launius. Bell and the Army were quite pleased with the results
of the NACA’s drag reduction work, and ultimately Bell made enough of the recommended changes to increase the Airacobra’s speed by 16 percent. Unfortunately, the replacement in the production model of the aircraft’s turbosupercharged engine with a less powerful one incorporating a geared supercharger, and the addition of armor and armament, and for that matter, olive drab paint, reduced the Airacobra’s speed again, and production P-39s never exceeded 386 mph.
N Langley engineers in the engine lab in Cleveland, Ohio.
North American Aviation’s legendary P-51 Mustang was altogether more successful, and could attribute much of its performance to NACA research, as Michael H. Gorn describes in Expanding the Envelope. When the XP-51 took to the air, it was borne on a laminar flow wing that derived from the research of NACA aerodynamicist Eastman Jacobs and his team. The production Mustang was among the fastest propeller-driven fighters of the war in level flight, and surpassed most of the others in dive performance. NACA flying qualities research, including some very hazardous test flying, also led to refinements in the Mustang’s ailerons that would give it the highest roll rate of any frontline fighter in the world, a vital capability in a dogfight. Nor was NACA research limited to developing American aircraft. In a highly classified instance, a captured Japanese Mitsubishi Zero that had ditched near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, had its flight characteristics tested at Langley as well as in flight by the Navy. Chambers wrote that “some of the historians believe that the capture of the Zero (and the subsequent analysis of its flight characteristics) was as devastating to the Japanese war effort as the U.S. victory during the battle for Midway Island.” 5 The problem of airplane icing, which existed from the beginning of powered flight, plagued the commercial
M The Grumman XF4F-3 underwent drag reduction study in the NACA 30 x 60 Full Scale Tunnel at Langley. NACA recommendations led to further alterations to the design, including a revised cowling and tail.
aviation industry in the 1930s, causing numerous crashes and giving passengers a genuine reason to eschew this form of transportation. During the war, icing posed a real problem to military pilots operating in the North Atlantic and out of Alaska. Into the fray went NACA’s Lewis A. Rodert, leader of NACA icing research from 1936 to 1945, who appropriately studied engineering in the cool climes at the University of Minnesota. To attack the problem, he constantly tinkered with various mechanical, chemical, and thermal deicing systems on a small Lockheed 12A and a Curtiss C-46 that became his research laboratories. After much trial and error, Rodert’s team created a heat exchanging system that piped air heated by hot engine exhaust along the leading edge of an airplane’s wing. In 1947, President Harry Truman presented Rodert and his team the prestigious 1946 Collier Trophy, aviation’s highest award, for their deicing work. High-powered piston engines developed for the war effort needed to be produced in ways to solve complex combustion, heat exchange, and supercharger problems. The NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory in Cleveland developed a centrifugal supercharger to
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provide a single standard test procedure for the engines, which led to significant increases in efficiency. Of course, any record of NACA’s engine work must acknowledge that the committee concluded early in the war that while jet engine technology had promise, pursuing it aggressively in the near term when the technology was not yet mature would not be the best use of the organization’s resources. Other reasons cited for the less aggressive American approach to jet engine power were the interest of current engine manufacturers in pursuing incremental improvements to existing engines, the large expense associated with jet engine development, a lack of early recognition of the potential of the turbojet (compressor turbine combination) concept and of the overall potential of jet propulsion by NACA – where engine research had less priority than aerodynamic research – and the military services. NACA Langley engineer Eastman Jacobs was the loudest advocate for more attention to jet propulsion at the time, especially for work on the aerodynamics of jet engines, but his pleas went unheeded, and the NACA was not let in on the classified results of British jet research. “I always thought it a shame that Jacobs and his pals weren’t given the proper leadership and ability to move on with that work,” said Chambers. “They [NACA] kind of shot themselves in the foot at the beginning of the war.” For other problems, NACA often came to the rescue. To improve an aircraft’s stability after a wind gust, the NACA introduced to industry a new set of quantitative measures to characterize the stability, control, and
M Captured at Akutan Island, Alaska, in August 1942, this Mitsubishi A6M2 fighter was the first "Zero" to fall intact into Allied hands during World War II. After limited flying on the West Coast, the Zero arrived at Langley for installation of test equipment prior to in-depth flight testing by the Navy at Patuxent River, Maryland.
handling qualities of an airplane. To reduce dangerous, out-of-control aircraft spins, the NACA tested more than 300 models of fighters, light bombers, attack and trainer aircraft and contributed to changes in airplane tail designs, which helped pilots recover from highspeed dives. And extensive testing of the supersonic flow of air over various portions of an aircraft flying at subsonic speeds, which had led to steep, uncontrollable dives, led to the development of dive flaps on a wing’s lower surface, which enabled pilots to overcome the effects of “compressibility” and retain control over a diving airplane. These flaps were incorporated into the production of later variants of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters, which had been particularly prone to compressibility in high-speed dives, and many aircraft were modified in the field with kits sent from the United States. The P-38 went on to shoot down more Japanese aircraft than any other American fighter. Another big problem the military leaned on the NACA to solve was the problem of crews being forced to ditch their aircraft into the ocean, especially in the Pacific, usually with disastrous consequences. “We got into this because initially, in 1943, the services needed help because of the ditching problems they were having,” said Chambers. “As a result, virtually every aircraft
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was put through the tow tank testing at Langley, from fighters to bombers … very detailed tests of how to go about ditching those airplanes, the attitude, the landing gear up and down. People had a lot of different ideas about how to put an airplane in the water. Such things as, ‘Well, what you need to do is enter the water by having one of the tips hit first to make the airplane spin around.’ That turned out to have been one of the most violent approaches that could have been selected based on these tests. Throughout the war, being able to document and specify the optimum way to ditch these airplanes was an important output. After the war, this carried on into commercial aircraft in the test of the 707 that was put into a data base, and although Sully [Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, the flight that ditched successfully in the Hudson River in 2009] probably never picked up an NACA report, it was certainly the foundation of how the ditching approaches were going to be used.” By 1944, the professional world took note of NACA’s essential role. In a January editorial, the journal Aviation stated, “How much is it worth to this country to make sure we won’t find the Luftwaffe our superiors when we start that ‘Second Front’? We spend in one night over Berlin more than $20 million. The NACA requires – now – $17,546,700 for this year’s work. These raids are prime factors in winning the War. How can we do more towards Victory than by spending the price of one air raid in research which will keep our Air Forces in the position which the NACA has made possible?”
M The 1946 Collier Trophy was awarded to Lewis A. Rodert of Ames Aeronautical Laboratory for the development of an efficient wing deicing system. This Consolidated B-24 Liberator was modified by the NACA for studies on the effects of in-flight icing on all aerosurfaces, such as the wings, tail, engine cowlings, nose, props, and antennae.
Such is the legacy of a group that Launius said before the war “was a hobby shop.” The requirements of World War II fundamentally changed the NACA. They forced it to become bigger, to tackle new research challenges, and to address applied as well as basic research. The demands of the war also prepared NACA to assume a larger role in our national life when it would take on more complex aeronautical issues and the initial stages of the looming age of rocketry and spaceflight. l
1. Throughout the war, the NACA battled with the Selective Service System to keep the military from inducting its best personnel. A late war compromise allowed NACA engineers to be drafted and perform their service duties at NACA facilities. 2. Prior to the fall of France in 1940, Ide escaped to London and spent the remainder of the war conducting intelligence work for the Allies. 3. NACA reporting at the time showed aerodynamics research papers outnumbered propulsion research papers by a 4:1 ratio. 4. Roland, Alex, Model Research: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics 1915-1958, Volume 1, Washington, D.C., NASA, Science and Technical Information Branch, 1985, p. 167 5. Chambers, Joseph R., Cave of the Winds: The Remarkable History of the Langley Full-Scale Wind Tunnel, 2014, NASA.
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the jet age and beyond By dwight jon zimmerman
For survivors of the greatest conflict in history, the brave new post-World War II landscape could not have been more daunting. Battle-scarred nations throughout Europe and Asia lay prostrate. With an economy not only untouched, but actually strengthened by the conflict, the United States was in a unique position among all the great industrial powers to exploit in peace technological advances identified and created in war. In Adventures in Research: A History of Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, Edwin P. Hartman observed that in 1946, for the United States and the NACA in particular, â€œA revolution in aeronautical science was at hand. The signs, brought into clear focus by a world war, were everywhere. The vistas opening were inspiring and sobering. Indeed, they were humiliating in their revelation of our state of ignorance and unpreparedness. Our experience would do us little good; it related to airplanes of the kind pioneered by the Wright brothers. We were entering an era of transonic and supersonic aerodynamics, of jet and rocket engines, and of missiles. These developments represented not a normal extrapolation of our aeronautical past but a sudden and magnificent leap into the future.â€?
As Hartman noted, the NACA found itself, with some embarrassment, playing catch-up in aviation technology. It was an ironic repetition of the situation experienced by the nation in 1914 that prompted the creation of the NACA in the first place. The reason for that was simple enough. Wartime exigencies and an intimate partnership with the military caused the NACA to focus more on short-term solving of specific problems within existing technologies used by the military than on forward-looking long-term solutions that would advance aeronautical knowledge.
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M The Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1-1 (#46-062) in flight. The X-1 series aircraft were air-launched from modified Boeing B-29 or B-50 Superfortress bombers. It was thought that the bright orange aircraft would be more visible to those doing the tracking during a flight. When NACA received the airplanes they were painted white, which was an easier color to find in the skies over Muroc Air Field in California. This particular craft was nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis” by Chuck Yeager in honor of his wife, and is now on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The result was that the period from 1945 to 1958 ran the gamut for the NACA: beginning somewhat inauspiciously, coming from behind the technological curve, to achieving a breathtaking tally of aviation breakthroughs. NACA partnered with the Air Force to develop piloted research vehicles to study problems likely to be encountered in flights in the upper atmosphere and outer space and at hypersonic speeds. That research began with the X-1 and reached its apogee with the X-15 program, which began under the NACA and reached its peak after the creation of NASA. The X-planes conducted a wide range of aeronautical exploration, from the straight-winged X-1 family of highspeed, rocket-powered research craft, to the swept-wing X-2, the aptly-named jet-propelled X-3 Stiletto, the semitailless X-4 Bantam, the swing-wing X-5, and more, each exploring one or more unknown areas of the aerodynamic research spectrum. NACA also tested prototypes that never reached production but were useful research aircraft, like the D-558-1, the D-558-2, and the deltawinged XF-92. The aircraft were only the most visible of NACA’s research efforts, as the agency also helped develop and improve many industry designs as well as delving into pure research in the labs and wind tunnels. NACA’s work culminated at the advent of the Space Age, with the baton passing from NACA to NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
M NACA research aircraft in 1953. Clockwise from bottom left: Bell X-1A, D-558-1, XF-92A, X-5, D-558-2, X-4, and X-3.
Though the NACA was responsible for many noteworthy contributions and advances to aircraft and flight during these years, three particularly stand out because of their overarching impact on the advancement of flight, both in aircraft and spacecraft: the swept-wing design, the area rule, and the blunt nose principle. The first two decreased drag, allowing for faster, higher, and more efficient flight. For the third, counter-intuitively its purpose was to increase drag, the purpose being to better dissipate heat. Swept-wing design and area rule became important building blocks in the development of transonic, supersonic, and hypersonic aircraft. The blunt nose principle proved the key for constructing spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans and photographic film, although originally envisioned for safely delivering intercontinental ballistic missile warheads into the atmosphere. The swept-wing design was the first of the three to emerge from the NACA, and the man credited with that breakthrough was Robert T. Jones, an aerodynamicist at NACA’s Langley lab. Self-taught, a college dropout, and something of a maverick, his start at NACA was a testament to talent trumping (or at least side-stepping) bureaucratic orthodoxy. He left the University of Missouri to sign on as a mechanic for the nationally famous
barnstorming Marie Meyer Flying Circus (Charles Lindbergh was one of its stunt pilots). After it disbanded in 1928, he moved to Washington, D.C. The only job he could get during the Great Depression was that of elevator operator. He met a congressman and agreed to tutor him in physics and mathematics. The grateful congressman arranged for Jones to get a job in the Works Progress Administration program. His work attracted the attention of NACA Ames laboratory managers. Unable to hire him outright because the NACA position he was filling through the WPA required a college degree, Ames managers kept him employed through successive renewals of hire within the WPA program until Jones had enough experience to qualify for a higher position in NACA, one whose job description did not list the requirement of a college degree (presumably because only someone with one was capable of doing the work). Jones had worked on subsonic swept-wing aircraft design in 1944. In early 1945 he discovered a breakthrough regarding how the swept-wing design could overcome the problem of compressibility as an aircraft approached Mach speed. On March 5, 1945, he issued a formal paper on his findings to NACA chiefs. To NACA Director of Research George W. Lewis he wrote, “I have recently made a theoretical analysis which indicates that a V-shaped wing traveling point foremost would be less affected by compressibility than other platforms. … In fact, if the angle of the V is kept small relative to the Mach
N Langley researcher Robert T. Jones was the first American aerodynamicist to identify the importance of swept back wings in efficiently achieving and maintaining supersonic flight.
angle, the lift and center of pressure remain the same at speeds both above and below the speed of sound.” Jones went on to conduct model tests and additional delta wing configuration experiments. In late June 1945, he published a summary of his findings in NACA Technical Note Number 1033. It was in it that he proposed that supersonic planes being developed incorporate the swept-wing design. His findings received an additional boost when German aerodynamicists began arriving in the United States as a part of Operation Paperclip, which brought the bulk of German aircraft and rocket scientists, engineers, and designers to the country. The result was that designers of Boeing’s B-47 tore up existing straight-wing blueprints and went back to the drawing board to create a swept-wing design so successful it became the model for the company’s subsequent bomber and airliner designs. North America’s straightwing XP-86 jet fighter underwent a similar metamorphosis, becoming the F-86 Sabre, which would achieve fame in the Korean War. Ironically, though Bell engineers agreed that the swept wing was the future for supersonic flight, they chose not to incorporate it into the design of their X-1. Thus the world’s first supersonic airplane had a conventional straight-wing design. But the X-1’s straight-wing configuration was the only conventional aspect of the wings, which were both shorter and thinner than normal designs. In addition, the fuselage was modeled after the shape of a .50-caliber bullet, based on the bullet’s ballistic performance, and the horizontal stabilizer was also thinner and placed higher on the tail than in conventional aircraft. And, because jet engines then under development were incapable of producing the thrust needed to reach or exceed Mach 1, designers selected a four-chamber rocket engine built by Reaction Motors that produced 1,500 pounds of thrust from each chamber. On Oct. 14, 1947, Air Force Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager strapped into the cockpit of the X-1 (XS-1) “Glamorous Glennis,” named after his wife, and was released from a B-29 “mother ship.” A few minutes later, test personnel monitoring the flight at Rogers Dry Lake at Muroc Air Force Base 42,000 feet below heard a loud sonic boom as the X-1 went supersonic, reaching Mach 1.06. While this became the most famous X-1 flight, the X-1A, X-1B, X-1D, and X-1E pushed the envelope of exploration even further, investigating aerodynamic phenomena and aircraft design elements at greater altitudes and twice the speed of the X-1. Though the NACA’s workload had been dominated by military needs during World War II, postwar it was not exclusively so. Commercial airline travel significantly increased after the war. Aircraft manufacturers were making civilian airliners that could fly farther, faster, and higher than ever before. The NACA launched a multi-faceted R&D program to study the
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various aspects of such flight. It included testing pressurized fuselages, the stresses imposed on landing gear subjected to repeated landings, and gathering global information about air currents and exploring their effects on aircraft, particularly air turbulence and gusts. The importance of this research was underscored by a number of fatal crashes beginning in 1952 involving the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first production jet airliner. Eventually it was discovered the accidents were caused by catastrophic fuselage failure due to metal fatigue from repeated pressurization cycles, a danger unknown at the time, as well as failure due to severe turbulence in at least one case. One of those NACA researchers working on resolving the problems created by wind gusts – “gust alleviation” – was aeronautical research scientist Chris Kraft. Kraft had joined the NACA in January 1945 working in its Flight Research Division. He also assisted in the design of the X-1. At the time, even with hydraulic controls, flying an
M An X-5 multiple exposure photo showing its variable sweep wings, which could be moved during flight. Though “not a comfortable airplane to fly,” according to test pilot Scott Crossfield, it verified the qualities of variable sweep wings.
aircraft required muscle power. He recalled, “In crazy air conditions, the plane could be pitching, rolling, and bouncing all at the same time. If it was hard on the pilot, it was hell on the passengers. … Under the worst conditions, the jolting motions could damage the airplane itself.” In 1951, Kraft issued NACA Technical Note 2416 that proposed a theoretical solution to the problem. Tests first on a modified DC-3 and later on a C-45 validated the theory, and by 1955 the system was perfected. Though advances in airline technology wound up superseding the original reason for Kraft’s research, the knowledge gained proved to be invaluable data for other fields involving the atmosphere. Kraft’s involvement in solving issues with the Navy’s new supersonic F8U jet fighter found him working with Marine Maj. John Glenn. In 1958, when NASA
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was authorized, Kraft was among the NACA personnel asked to join the agency, where he became NASA’s first flight director overseeing the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, and Glenn its first astronaut to orbit the planet. Though the swept-wing design proved to be the key to practical supersonic flight, it had not provided a complete solution to drag problems encountered by aircraft flying at transonic and low Mach speeds. In 1952, Richard Whitcomb, an aerodynamicist at NACA’s Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, discovered and verified a solution: a design called “area rule.” It was “a method of designing aircraft to reduce drag and increase speed without additional power.” The rule states that “in order to produce the least amount of drag when approaching supersonic flight, the cross-sectional area of an aircraft body should be consistent throughout the aircraft’s length. To compensate for the place on an aircraft where the wings are attached to the fuselage, the fuselage needs to be made narrower so that the crosssection remains the same.” In other words, the fuselage is pinched where the wings are joined to it. The result
M The Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak in flight. The D-558-1 aircraft flew extensive tests at transonic speeds, collecting a great deal of useful data on handling at such speeds.
is a fuel-efficient fuselage shape variously described as “Coke bottle” or “wasp waist.” It was a revolutionary design because it ran counter to prevailing thought that called for a straight-line fuselage. Also in the early 1950s the NACA began to seriously study the problems likely to be encountered by spacecraft then beginning to appear on the drawing tables, and nuclear warhead-carrying ballistic missiles re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. The most vexing was finding a solution to dissipate heat buildup caused by atmospheric friction. Early wind tunnel tests focused on various needle-like designs. But so much heat accumulated in the vehicles that some models literally burned up. The same year that Whitcomb at Langley announced area rule, H. Julian Allen at the NACA’s Ames Aeronautical Laboratory made what amounted to another counter-intuitive discovery. Instead of trying to create a shape with the narrowest possible profile to slice through the atmosphere, Allen discovered that “by
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P In the 8-foot High-Speed Tunnel in April 1955, Richard Whitcomb examines a model designed in accordance with his transonic area rule.
elevated temperature was still low enough to have no effect on the warhead, it was high enough to kill humans and destroy photographic film. Adding more copper meant adding significantly more weight, compounding the problems of providing sufficient launch power and re-entry braking. A number of concepts were tested, and in 1956 the most promising proposal was one known as ablation. With respect to spacecraft, layers of ablative material would be applied to the outer shell of the re-entry vehicle and were designed to burn away in a controlled manner, in so doing carrying away the heat from the vehicle. The most promising ablative materials were glass-ceramic compounds similar to Owens-Corning’s CorningWare, a commercial cookware material just coming on the market as baking dishes for household kitchens, and other reinforced plastics. A variety of materials were tested, with the best being a nylon cloth impregnated with a phenolic resin plastic and molded into the appropriate shape. The heat sink and ablation methods would be used in the Mercury space capsules and Discoverer/Corona reconnaissance spacecraft.
O H. Julian Allen stands beside the observation window of the test section of the NACA Ames Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. Allen is best known for his “Blunt Body” theory of aerodynamics, a design technique for alleviating the severe re-entry heating problem that was then delaying the development of ballistic missiles. Applied research led to applications of the “blunt” shape to ballistic missiles and spacecraft that were intended to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, such as the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft.
increasing the drag of the [re-entry] vehicle, he could reduce the heat it generated.” Allen’s tests revealed that much of the heat caused by re-entry was actually deflected away from the craft. Together with scientist Alfred J. Eggers, Allen discovered that craft designed with blunt noses, rather than needle noses, were far more efficient in deflecting heat away from the craft. The blunt shape formed “a thick shockwave ahead of the vehicle that both deflected the heat and slowed it more quickly.” NACA research led to General Electric developing the nuclear-warhead-carrying blunt nose Mark 2 reentry vehicle for the Thor, Jupiter, and Atlas ballistic missiles. Tests showed that the Mark 2’s blunt nose did indeed deflect much of the heat and help brake the vehicle’s descent. But the superheated plasma that formed in front of the nose still generated so much heat that some penetrated the vehicle. The problem was fixed using a heat-sink design composed of a thick layer of copper just below the outer shell of the vehicle. Though it worked, the drawback was weight. The copper’s extra weight meant a trade-off in a lighter payload, thus limiting the size of the warhead. And, when applied to piloted and photoreconnaissance spacecraft, the problems were magnified. The problems were twofold. The heat sink itself got hotter by several hundred degrees. Though the
Though details were obviously few thanks to the Cold War tension that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union, NACA and the American military believed that the Soviets trailed far behind U.S. efforts, although they had little actual knowledge of the extent of Soviet progress in rocket design. From what little they were able to glean, they were confident that they would be the first to launch a man-made satellite into space. They – and everyone else – were proved wrong. On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched into space Sputnik, the world’s first man-made satellite. The news shocked the American public. The successful launch into orbit of a second Sputnik a month later, this time with a living creature aboard – the dog Laika – was perhaps a greater shock. When the effort to launch America’s first satellite failed spectacularly, with the Vanguard rocket exploding a few feet off the pad, the country’s confidence was shaken. Everyone from the
M X-2 Number 1 (#674) in flight over Southern California. The X-2 pushed beyond Mach 3, but the program was curtailed after the death of pilot Mel Apt while flight testing the aircraft.
leaders in the Eisenhower administration to people on Main Street questioned whether or not the United States had lost what was now being called the “space race.” It also caused the national leadership to reassess the role of NACA and other associated institutions going forward in the Space Age. The result was a new organization with a new name and a new mandate. On Oct. 1, 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized NACA to be reborn as NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – a civilian agency organized around the NACA but encompassing several other institutions, now responsible not only for aeronautical and space research, but for putting a man on the Moon. A new chapter in the agency’s history was about to begin. l
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Aeronautics under NASA By edward goldstein
On Oct. 1, 1958, NASA, an agency required by its founding legislation to pursue both aeronautical and space activities, officially opened for business with five facilities inherited from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics: Lewis Research Center in Ohio, Langley Research Center and the Wallops rocket test range in Virginia, and Ames Research Center and the Muroc aircraft test range in California. By executive order, President Dwight D. Eisenhower transferred existing space projects from other government agencies to NASA. NASA began with a staff of 8,240 (8,000 from the NACA) and a budget of approximately $340 million. If there were any doubts about where the fledgling agency was headed in the publicâ€™s mind, they were eliminated six days later when NASA officials announced Project Mercury, the attempt to put a human in orbit. By April 9 of the following year, NASA introduced its first class of astronauts, and the space race was on. But while astronaut Alan Shepardâ€™s first suborbital flight was
M X-15-1 released from the NB-52A carrier aircraft on May 12, 1960, with NASA test pilot Joe Walker at the controls. The aircraft flew to Mach 3.19 and 77,382 feet.
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still two years in the distance, North American Aviation test pilot Scott Crossfield was only two months away from the maiden flight of the X-15, the joint NASA-Air Force-Navy project to demonstrate experimental highspeed rocket-powered high altitude aircraft. The long and cylindrical X-15 was conceived in 1952 as part of the NACA’s experimental aircraft program. The world’s first
hypersonic research aircraft was carried into the atmosphere on a NASA B-52 that lifted off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, on Sept. 17, 1959, for the X-15’s first powered flight. Dropped from under the wing of the B-52, Crossfield engaged the X-15’s powerful Reaction Motors XLR11 engines and flew above 52,000 feet and beyond Mach 2 before he landed at Rogers Dry Lake,
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where the first space shuttles also ended their flights 22 years later. For nine years the three X-15s flew 199 times, seven of them with Neil Armstrong in the cockpit, setting records for speed (4,520 mph, or Mach 6.7) and altitude (354,200 feet or 67 miles), often reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data on aerodynamic heating, high-temperature materials, reaction controls, and space suits. Although the X-15’s flights did receive a due amount of publicity and honors, including the 1961 Collier Trophy for test pilots Maj. Robert White (USAF), Joseph Walker (NASA), Forrest Petersen (USN) and Scott Crossfield, news coverage paled in comparison to the live network broadcasts accorded to every human spaceflight of that era. Going forward, the story of aeronautics throughout NASA’s existence has largely been the same. Somewhat out of sight, but definitely not out of relevance. The Spirit of Innovation Continues Despite the lack of high level attention and funding – NASA’s aeronautics function is proposed by the administration for $571 million in FY 2016 funding, or three percent of the agency’s funding – the results of NASA aeronautics research can be found in practically every domestically produced commercial transport or military aircraft flown today, making the skies safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. NASA’s research has also greatly influenced the development of modern rotorcraft, unmanned aircraft systems, and our national air traffic management system. “Aviation as we know it today worldwide would not have the capabilities that it has, had it not been for the NACA/NASA investment in aeronautics,” said noted aerospace historian Dr. Richard Hallion. “I would stress that continuum, one to another. And the fact that you will rarely meet people as dedicated as those that have worked for NASA in this field. When you look at the challenges they faced, it’s extraordinary what they accomplished.” Indeed, aeronautics is often called the quiet A in NASA, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. Changing Research Themes While there certainly was continuity between the NACA’s and NASA’s dedication to conducting and building upon research into the fundamental problems of aeronautics, there are definitely themes that are unique to aeronautics research during the NASA period. One was the recognition that aviation was becoming a mature form of transportation in the latter part of the 20th century, and that research focused on discrete matters such as improving aviation safety margins, taking advantage of computers and composite materials to improve aircraft performance, and looking at ways to
improve engine efficiency and to incorporate alternative jet fuels to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint would reap significant benefits. “As the technologies matured significantly, there were incremental things to take on that NASA took on and did so very effectively,” said Roger Launius, the Associate Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and former NASA historian. “I’m very much enamored with small projects that yielded major results, like the wind shear project that Langley did in the 1980s that yielded the warning system that’s on every airplane now for wind shear.” Another theme related to aviation’s advances was NASA’s focus, or lack of focus, on supersonic (Mach 1.25-5) and hypersonic research (Mach 5 and above). Decisions made in this research area were heavily influenced by the large expense of high-speed flight. For instance, during the 1960s, when NASA was aiming toward the Moon, the agency rejected taking a lead role in conducting research and development on a proposed American Super Sonic Transport (SST) airplane to compete with the French-British Concorde Consortium and the Russians (TU-144). Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden wisely argued that, with Apollo underway, NASA didn’t have sufficient resources and managerial personnel to take on this massive and ultimately controversial project. But NASA never totally abandoned supersonic research. Today, “Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft” is one of six research thrusts defined in the agency’s Aeronautics Research Strategic Vision, with flight tests collecting data on the perceptions of sonic booms on the ground being one element of the research. In the area of hypersonic research, following the X-15 program, budget tightening and a lack of technological maturity affected programs such as the National Aerospace Plane, X-33 suborbital space plane and X-38 wingless lifting body. Despite all the fits and starts with hypersonics research, Hallion believes that “NASA contributed greatly to the technology of high speed flight in terms of its studies of shapes, configurations, materials, guidance and control issues and pilot protection. That was tremendously useful.” A final theme related to aeronautics during the NASA period was how NASA’s approach to managing largescale mission-oriented research forced the aeronautics component of the agency to alter its way of doing business. As Robert G. Ferguson points out in NASA’s First A: Aeronautics from 1958 to 2008, “Over time, the original intention to maintain a sharp distinction between an operational space program and basic research began to give way to a belief that all of NASA should be run in the same fashion as the space program,” he wrote. “In the NASA era, knowledge production gave way to the completion of big projects. The size of research expanded, and, increasingly, it involved teams of researchers
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Enter the Lifting Body That said, one of the agency’s most inventive aeronautical research efforts of the 1960s and 1970s, NASA’s Lifting Body Vehicles Research Program, was the opposite of a large project in its origins. It was largely driven from the ground up by enthusiastic engineers such as R. Dale Reed at the Flight Research Center (now Armstrong Research Center) in California. Using the motto, “Don’t be rescued from outer space – fly back in style,” Reed and his colleagues pushed for wingless lifting body designs first conceptualized at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory
– utilizing air flowing over a fuselage to generate lift – that would enable a spacecraft to fly through the atmosphere to a controlled landing on an airstrip rather than parachute back to an ocean splashdown, as was the case during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Encouraged by Reed’s passion, Center Director Paul Bikle approved discretionary funding to construct
working in conjunction with subcontractors. With big projects came big money and big management. This was in marked contrast to the lone researcher working on a topic of personal interest on bootstrapped wind tunnel time.” Of course the downside of this approach was that large aeronautics projects had to compete with the more amply funded space projects, and in many cases, the funding was not always there.
M Wingless lifting body aircraft sitting on Rogers Dry Lake at what is now NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. From left to right are the X-24A, M2-F3, and the HL-10. The lifting body aircraft studied the feasibility of maneuvering and landing an aerodynamic craft designed for reentry from space. These lifting bodies were air launched by a B-52 mother ship, then flew powered by their own rocket engines before making an unpowered approach and landing. They helped validate the concept that a space shuttle could make accurate landings without power. The X-24A flew from April 17, 1969, to June 4, 1971. The M2-F3 flew from June 2, 1970, until Dec. 20, 1972. The HL-10 flew from Dec. 22, 1966, until July 17, 1970, and logged the highest and fastest records in the lifting body program. All derived from the pioneering M2-F1, built of plywood by volunteers.
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O A Vought F-8A Crusader is used as a flying testbed for an experimental Supercritical Wing (SCW) airfoil on Jan. 10, 1973. The unique design of the SCW reduces the effect of shock waves on the upper surface near Mach 1, which in turn reduces drag. This is the configuration of the F-8 SCW aircraft late in the program. Dr. Richard Whitcomb developed a modified supercritical-wing shape that provided higher lift-to-drag ratios at the same speeds. He did this by using thicker airfoil sections and a reduced wing sweepback. This resulted in an increased aspect ratio without an increase in wing weight. In the decades since the F-8 SCW flew, the use of such airfoils has become common.
N The first XV-15 tilt-rotor flight for NASA/Dryden at the Army contingent at Edwards Air Force Base, Edwards, California, October 1980. The XV-15’s success paved the way for the V-22 Osprey in service today with the Air Force and Marine Corps.
The Genius of Richard Whitcomb The NASA aeronautics story is also a legacy story of brilliant engineers who began their careers at NACA and contributed greatly to modern aeronautics in the shadow of the space program. One person affected by the demise of NASA’s SST work was research engineer Richard Whitcomb, already celebrated for developing the Transonic Area Rule. “When he got out of the SST program he threw up his hands and said, ‘it’s not going to happen,’” said colleague Joseph Chambers, who ran Langley’s Large Scale Wind Tunnel next door to Whitcomb’s 8-foot Wind Tunnel. “He went back to subsonic transport, trying to increase the
speed capability of aircraft, which led to supercritical wing [a swept-back wing airfoil that delayed the onset of aerodynamic drag].” NASA tests of a supercritical wing design on the Vought F-8A Crusader aircraft in 1971 confirmed measurements from Whitcomb’s wind tunnel tests, which showed increased cruising speed, improved fuel efficiency and greater flight range than conventional-wing aircraft. This research led to the design being utilized on new airliners and business jets
a homebuilt lifting body featuring a plywood shell placed over a tubular steel frame, the M2-F1. Using volunteer help from center personnel, Reed built the M2-F1 at the princely sum of $30,000. Because the M2-F1 was unpowered it was first tested at Rogers Dry Lake Bed by being towed around by a hopped up 1963 Pontiac convertible speeding at 120 mph. It later attained free flight and had 77 air-towed flights. The larger M2-F2 and subsequent manned lifting bodies, the HL-10, X-24A, M2-F3, and the X-24B, contributed to the design and construction parameters of the space shuttles, although the actual shuttle design rejected the lifting body concept.
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to reduce fuel costs and lower operational costs. Later in the decade, Whitcomb developed the winglet, a barrier at the tip of a wing in the form of a supplementary vertical wing that has improved aircraft efficiency by reducing another source of drag. The winglet technology was initially used for business jets, and has since been incorporated into most modern commercial and military transport jets. Aviation Partners Boeing (APB), the company that manufactures and retrofits winglets for commercial airliners, projects its Blended Winglet technology will have saved five billion gallons of jet fuel worldwide through the end of last year. “If you take a look at Whitcomb as a focal figure, really the airplane today reflects his shaping genius about the way we approach aircraft design,” noted Hallion. “That was rooted very much in the NACA, but he was very effective at securing support in the Langley environment and continuing support through the NASA era.”
M The HiMAT (Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) subscale research vehicle, seen here during a research flight, was flown from mid1979 to January 1983. The aircraft demonstrated advanced fighter technologies that have been used in the development of many modern highperformance military aircraft.
Results that Matter In May 1970, NASA announced Neil Armstrong’s appointment as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics for the Office of Advanced Research and Technology. Although Armstrong, ill suited for a bureaucratic management position, would only last in that post for a year, NASA’s aeronautics function started to climb in importance within the agency because it continued to produce results that mattered, and because the White House, Congress and other stakeholders wanted to see more balance in the NASA portfolio of activities following the end of the Apollo
DLR at a Glance DLR is the national aeronautics and space research center of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transportation, and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space program. DLR is also the umbrella organization for the nation’s largest project man agement agency. DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo, and Washington D.C. Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt German Aerospace Center
Knowledge for Tomorrow
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era. The breadth and depth of NASA aeronautics innovations from the 1970s on are truly impressive. • The development of the NASTRAN integrated software package, which became the standard structural analysis code for the aviation industry. • Flight Research Center engineers validated digital flyby-wire aircraft, or all-electronic flight control systems. Digital fly-by-wire systems allowed computers to control military and commercial aircraft and the space shuttles, increasing stability and maneuverability. • Spurred on by Ames Research Center Director Hans Mark, researchers at Ames as well as Langley revolutionized the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics, utilizing high speed supercomputers that could solve demanding aeronautical research problems by using many processors in parallel.
M Original configuration of the aft flight deck of the NASA 737 with monochrome flight displays. This first “glass cockpit” paved the way for the full-color, multifunction electronic flatpanel displays that equip aircraft flight decks today.
• As transport aircraft instrument design increased in complexity, engineers at Langley joined with industry to develop and test electronic flight display concepts, culminating in test flights on a Boeing 737 using Rockwell Collins hardware that became the modern full-color, multifunction, electronic flat panel display glass cockpit. The technology went on to be standard equipment for commercial, business and military aircraft and the space shuttle. • A push to make airplanes more efficient in response to the 1973-1974 oil embargo imposed on the U.S. and other western countries by the Organization of
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the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and subsequent high jet fuel prices. NASA’s Aircraft Energy Efficiency Program expanded research on: Engine Component Improvement, Fuel Conservative Engines, Fuel Conservative Transport (aerodynamic design, active controls) Turboprops,1 Laminar Flow Control and Composite Primary Structures. NASA’s work to make airplanes more fuel-efficient and to reduce their carbon footprint continues today under its Environmentally Responsible Aviation program. The program has the goal by 2025 of reducing aircraft drag by 8 percent; aircraft weight by 10 percent; engine specific fuel consumption by 15 percent; oxides of nitrogen emissions of the engine by 75 percent, and aircraft noise by 1/8 compared with current standards. • Following several high profile airline crashes involving wind shear, or dangerously strong downdrafts of wind currents affecting planes during takeoff and landing, Langley engineers teamed up with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop sensors to alert pilots of the imminent approach of hazardous weather. • A joint Army-NASA project on tilt-rotor research aircraft culminated in flights at NASA/Dryden of the Bell XV-15, the first tilting rotor vehicle to solve the problems of “prop whirl.” Its success directly led to development of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force V-22 Osprey. • Thirty years before unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, became all the rage, NASA’s Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) demonstrated the viability of pilotless radio-controlled aircraft. Composed of various metal alloys, graphite composites, and glass fiber materials, and with sharply swept wings, winglets, and canard surfaces, HiMAT also pointed the way to the high-performance military aircraft that would eventually contribute to U.S. air dominance in modern conflicts. • In the 1990s, NASA engineers at Ames, Langley and Lewis developed a computer-assisted engine control system that enabled a pilot to land a plane safely when its normal control surfaces are disabled. The PropulsionControlled Aircraft system uses standard autopilot controls already present in the cockpit, together with new programming in the aircraft’s flight control computers. • In response to a 1994 crash of a commuter aircraft caused by severe icing conditions, NASA Glenn developed a cooperative icing flight research program with the FAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Atmospheric Environmental Service of Canada. Ninety research flights focused on Supercooled Large Droplets, resulting in improved instrumentation and icing weather models, giving pilots a better chance to avoid this phenomenon. Today, NASA’s NextGen contributions include the development of advanced automation tools to provide
controllers with more accurate predictions about the nation’s air traffic flow, weather and routing. Under current Administrator Charles Bolden, the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) is led by Dr. Jaiwon Shin, a South Korean-born expert in aerodynamics and heat transfer. Under a new project structure, ARMD is seeking to achieve a strategic vision that builds upon current U.S. aerospace leadership and enables revolutionary advances. The structure is based on six strategic thrusts: 1) Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations (NextGen technologies); 2) Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft; 3) UltraEfficient Commercial Vehicles (breakthrough technology for leaps in efficiency and environmental performance); 4) Transition to Low-Carbon Propulsion (alternative fuels and low-carbon propulsion technology); 5) Real Time System-Wide Safety Assurance; and 6) Assured Autonomy for Aviation Transformation (high impact aviation autonomy applications). These goals will be advanced by mission programs, including: Airspace Operations and Safety (e.g. Airspace Technology Demonstrations; Shadow Mode Assessment using Realistic Technologies for the NAS [SMART-NAS]) for Safe Trajectory Based Operations; Safe Autonomous System Operations; Advanced Air Vehicles (e.g. Advanced Air Transport Technology, Revolutionary Vertical Lift, Commercial Supersonic, Advanced Composites, Aeronautics Evaluation and Test); Integrated Aviation Systems (e.g. Environmentally Responsible Aviation, UAS Integration into the national airspace system, flight demonstrations and capabilities); and Transformative Aeronautics Concepts (e.g. Leading Edge Aero Research for NASA, Transformational Tools and Technologies, Convergent Aeronautics Solutions). What all this adds up to, according to Shin, is a determination that if the agency is the “world premier R&D organization, we will be leading all the technologies in aeronautics for the world.” Shin added, “In my view, our country is asking us to put ourselves ten, twenty years ahead of U.S. industry and work on revolutionary, fundamental research. At the moment, at the present time, industry may not even realize that they actually need these certain technologies, or they cannot foresee the certain technologies needed for their market or product. We are responsible for having this vision that would put us way, way ahead of industry, and we will continue to work on achieving that. I believe that is our role and that is our mission, to stay ahead of everybody else in the world and continue to push the envelope of aeronautics technologies.” l
1. The NASA Lewis Research Center and the NASA/Industry Advanced Turboprop Team received the 1987 Collier Trophy “for the development of advanced turboprop propulsion concepts for single rotation, gearless counter rotation, and geared counter rotation inducted fan systems.”
Blessed from Birth: The people behind the National Advisory committee for aeronautics 60
By walter j. Boyne
BLESSED FROM BIRTH
O The first meeting of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the Office of the Secretary of War on April 23, 1915. Seated from left to right: William F. Durand, Stanford University; Samuel W. Stratton, Director, National Bureau of Standards; Brig. Gen. George P. Scriven, Chief Signal Officer, War Department; Charles F. Marvin, Chief, U.S. Weather Bureau; Michael I. Pupin, Columbia University. Standing: Holden C. Richardson, naval instructor; John F. Hayford, Northwestern University; Capt. Mark L. Bristol, Director of Naval Aeronautics; Lt. Col. Samuel Reber, Army Signal Corps, in charge of Aviation Section. Also present at the first meeting were Joseph S. Ames, Johns Hopkins University; Charles D. Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; and the Honorable Byron R. Newton, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
P Aerial view of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL) east area, circa 1920.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the NACA to the United States, and for that matter, to the world, for in the course of its 43-year career it pushed the limits of everything from technology to the law. In technology, it chose to build a series of wind tunnels, each a bit ahead of its time, from which unprecedented data were derived. The raw data results were received with gratitude by the industry, not least because they were often confirmed through hazardous test flights by a galaxy of famous NACA research pilots including Eddie Allen, William A. “Bill” McAvoy, Thomas Carroll, and many more, including the long-serving John P. “Jack” Reeder. These men became popular heroes in the aviation community, and they were well aware that their exploits derived from the efforts of their engineer and scientist colleagues. The latter’s names were well known in the industry. They included such stellar performers as Jerome Hunsaker, Fred E. Weick, James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, Richard Whitcomb, and many others. In truth, the skies of the NACA were filled with stars of both the theoretical and the practical side of test flying. What is surprising is the length of time that many of these great leaders served NACA, even as they achieved outstanding status in their own professions. It is less well known that engineers and test pilots in other countries benefited as well from NACA information. As two examples, both the Messerschmitt Me 262 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 used NACA airfoils as the basis for initial wing and control surface designs. HOW IT ALL BEGAN In 1911, the American Aeronautical Society sought to create a center for aeronautical research and turned to the Smithsonian Institution, which had backed Samuel Pierpont Langley’s successful work
with models and his failures with their scaled up versions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Bureau of Standards, and even the U.S. Navy, which had just witnessed Eugene Ely’s successes, expressed positive interest. Foreign countries had established such research centers. In Great Britain, the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was set up in 1909. In Germany, Ludwig Prandtl, who was dominant in the field until his death at age 78 in 1953, had already turned the University of Göttingen into the premier place for theoretical aerodynamics. Meudon, in France, had been a research center since 1877 for balloons and other aeronautic experiments. Secretary of the Smithsonian Charles D. Walcott sent two brilliant men to Europe to examine progress in aviation. They were Dr. Albert F. Zahm (a strong proponent of Langley and bitter enemy of the Wrights) and Dr. Jerome C. Hunsaker, of MIT. The two men, who would be prominent in the field for decades to come, issued a report in 1914 that clearly showed U.S. aviation to be lagging in technical development and that the European leads would increase in the near future. The importance of the Zahm/Hunsaker report was emphasized by the rapid advances made in aviation after the European war broke out in 1914. Walcott made efforts to obtain the necessary legislation for an American aeronautical center in 1914, but was not successful. In 1915, however, his proposals attracted the attention of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who attached the request as a rider to the Naval Appropriation Bill of March 3, 1915.
Kevin Jordan SJSU Professor of Psychology and of Human Factors and Ergonomics (right)
Senior Research Psychologist/ Engineer (left)
NASA–SJSU Congratulations to Kevin Jordan on founding and sustaining a successful partnership between NASA Ames and San José State University across three decades. • Wang Family Excellence Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Service • NASA Exceptional Public Service Award • More than $170 Million in NASA-SJSU Cooperative Agreement grants for Human System Integration Research • NASA Public Service Medal
Kevin Jordan has made unprecedented contributions to San José State University and to the California State University system. His legacy of research and educational leadership will impact our institution, our faculty, and our students for years to come.” —Andrew Hale Feinstein, SJSU Provost
blessed from birth
A budget of $5,000 was established to form an advisory committee that would review, assess, and coordinate work already under way, with a charter “to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solutions.” Twelve distinguished men, each a leader in his own field, were selected as committee members, and held their first meeting on April 23, 1915, in the office of Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison. They included Professor Joseph S. Ames, Johns Hopkins University; Capt. Mark L. Bristol, Director of Naval Aeronautics; Professor William F. Durand, Stanford University; Professor John F. Hayford, Northwestern University; Dr. Charles F. Marvin, Chief, U.S. Weather Bureau; the Honorable Byron R. Newton, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Professor Michael I. Pupin, Columbia University; Lt. Col. Samuel Reber, Army Signal Corps, in charge of Aviation Section; Holden C. Richardson, naval instructor; Brig. Gen. George P. Scriven, Chief Signal Officer, War Department; Dr. Samuel W. Stratton, Director, National Bureau of Standards; and Walcott, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Most of the men were unknown to each other personally, but each had an established reputation. They represented a powerhouse of intellectual achievement in a wide variety of fields, all most appropriate to an aeronautical research center. While the committee met as a whole only twice a year, there was extensive correspondence among them. An “executive committee” was formed of the seven who lived in the Washington area who took care of dispensing the advice. These naturally tended to be the members from the War and Navy departments. With America’s entry into the war in 1917, more funds were available for projects on which the NACA advised. The NACA also settled the long patent dispute between Curtiss and the Wright Brothers. The industry was pressured to form a cross-licensing organization known as the Manufacturers Aircraft Association, which satisfied both Curtiss and Orville Wright. While the NACA legislation did not specifically authorize the building or operation of a lab, on Nov. 22, 1916, committee members formally recognized that an independent laboratory was a necessity. They worked, initially with the U.S. Army, to develop a new $290,000 airfield near Norfolk, Virginia, where there was easy access to water and plenty of flat land for an airfield. After three years of work, and the Army’s decampment from the project in favor of building its own laboratory at McCook Field in Ohio, the formal dedication took place on June 11, 1920. It was named Langley Field, known today as Joint Base Langley-Eustis. The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL) was provided an initial staff of 11 people, including the NACA’s first hire, the aptly named John F. Victory. Small as it was, it was split into five
M The NACA's and LMAL's first civilian test pilot, Thomas Carroll.
divisions: Aeronautical and Aerodynamic; Power Plants; Technical Service; Flight Operations; and Property and Clerical. In 1919, it received two Curtiss JN-4Hs as equipment, along with a small wind tunnel, and borrowed lab equipment. In the same year, George W. Lewis was hired as Director of Research. In retrospect, this sounds like a prescription for disaster. It had a non-specific charter with the 12 board members already overworked in their own field. In addition, there was a tiny budget and a facility as well suited to a garage band as science, but burdened with five broad divisional goals. Somehow it was a good start to a great institution. Reasons Why It Worked The NACA was blessed by timing. The industry was booming and manufacturers were grateful for research data. NACA leaders from the start intuitively built test equipment that addressed the most obvious problems of the day, as well as reaching out to the unknown. The young agency also attracted and recruited the best personnel in the business to its ranks, much of the credit for this falling to Lewis. The first NACA test pilot was Thomas Carroll, who later became NACA’s guru on autogiros. He was soon joined by Edmund Turney “Eddie” Allen, an MIT-educated engineer with experience at the Army’s McCook Field and as an airmail pilot. He subsequently became famous as a freelance “first test flight” pilot, and, sadly, was killed in the first crash of a Boeing B-29 in 1943.
M The fifth production Thomas Morse MB-3 fighter spent the greater part of 1923 undergoing testing at the NACA's LMAL. The pressure distribution over wings in flight was the main focus of the study. This was a major concern, as the effort was aimed at preventing fabric from ripping or bursting apart under flight loads.
The two men used the two Jenny aircraft in serious instrumented tests of control and stability. They worked with NACA engineers, such as John W. “Gus” Crowley and Henry J.E. Reid, who flew with them and then entered the eternal round of discussions that characterized the informal but enthusiastic atmosphere of the organization. Perhaps more importantly, NACA engineers developed the tools necessary to measure and record the forces acting on aircraft, such as speed and load factors, and the information provided by the flight tests. Carroll and Allen were soon provided with examples of the Thomas Morse MB-3, Vought VE-7, Fokker D. VII, SPAD XIII, and RAF S.E. 5a to expand their capability. These were followed by virtually every new type proposed for service. Other work included the short-lived U.S. Air Service enthusiasm for lighter-thanair aircraft and the famed Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell bombing tests over the Atlantic.
Wind tunnels were not new, but the small NACA organization immediately focused on them as the best way to accumulate data. Over the years, six wind tunnels were built, the first being the 1918 5-foot Atmospheric Wind Tunnel, followed in 1922 by a ground-breaking pressurized Variable Density Tunnel, the first of its kind in the world. Recognizing, as the Wrights had done, that the propeller was an important “wing” on aircraft, a Propeller Research Tunnel was built. But the most famous of the series was the “full sized” wind tunnel of 1931, a magnet for press coverage as full-size aircraft were photographed in the mouth of the giant tunnel. Thus, for both scientific and personal relations reasons, NACA was seen to be the most advanced aeronautical research center in the world, a remarkable leap from its low-key start in 1915. Unheralded to all but the aeronautical research world was NACA’s accelerated work on airfoil crosssections, so that by its 1933 annual report it included
P The youthful Engineerin-Charge, Henry J.E. Reid sits at his desk, April 1928.
blessed from birth
O Setup and balance of a Vought VE-7 in the Propeller Research Tunnel.
78 separately numbered airfoils, detailing the shape, camber lines, thickness, nose features (usually the first element sought by engineers), and other information. It was a best-seller with designers, foreign and domestic. One unexpected but beneficial result was NACA’s becoming a stimulant for aeronautical research across the country, as new research centers began and universities branched out to include aeronautical engineering as major options. NACA closely followed European developments, particularly reports from John J. Ide in Paris, and later Great Britain. It also “pirated” a genius, the difficult and contentious Max Munk, from under Prandtl’s wing at Göttingen to lead the development of the pressurized (variable density) wind tunnel. This was completed in 1922 and was an immediate success, and for eight years, Munk imparted his somewhat rancorous genius to NACA before resigning. Further foreign aid came when the Guggenheim Fund lured the brilliant young scientist Theodore von Karman to the United States. Von Karman accepted a California Institute of Technology offer in 1929 and occupied his new post the following year. A steady stream of talented personnel began to issue from the school, and the NACA was able to take advantage
of that talent when it built the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field in California. Von Karman himself would later become one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL). The United States now clearly led the world in experimental aeronautics. A flood of new designs put NACA on a 24/7 schedule as industry engineers clamored for wind tunnel test results and for the data from the hands-on, practical applications of those results. Many hand-built cowlings were fitted, each one attempting to mold the cowling to the test aircraft (a Curtiss AT-5A). The final results were remarkable, achieving a 19 mph increase in speed. The cowling improved engine cooling, reduced drag, and used engine heat to generate thrust. On Feb. 5, 1929, the famous Frank Hawks set a new Los Angeles-to-New York transcontinental record of 18 hours and 13 minutes, in the parasol wing Lockheed Air Express. The NACA received this message: “Cooling carefully checked and OK. Record impossible without new cowling. All credit due naca for painstaking and accurate research. [Signed] Gerry Vultee. Lockheed Aircraft Co.” The National Aeronautic Association awarded the Collier Trophy for 1929 to the NACA chairman, Dr. Joseph S. Ames, at the White House on June 3, 1930.
M President Herbert Hoover presented the Collier Trophy to Joseph Ames, chairman of the NACA, for the development of lowdrag cowlings for radial air-cooled aircraft engines. The Collier has been awarded annually since 1911 by the National Aeronautic Association ‘’for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles.’’
Weick, who was director of the Propeller Research Tunnel and in charge of the cowling work, was named to be the recipient of the award. NACA’s range of experimentation was amazing, and included superchargers, variable incidence wings, highaltitude oxygen equipment, leading-edge slats, retractable landing gear, Fowler flaps, spin recovery mechanisms, anti-icing equipment, and cabin pressurization. A variety of rotor craft were tested, and both seaplanes and flying boats had pressure distribution tests to confirm water handling as well as flight characteristics.
The test aircraft ran from the exotic, such as the Wilford XOZ-1 Gyroplane, through standard military aircraft such as the Boeing XB-15 and B-17. Test pilots were often assigned to fly particular types of aircraft because of their past experience, although there was a great deal of latitude in this. McAvoy, who had successfully tested the Grumman XF3F-1 after two civilian pilots had been killed in it, flew everything from fighters to the four-engine Hall Aluminum flying boat. Reeder specialized in rotary-wing aircraft, but also flew standard military aircraft such as the Republic P-47 or North American P-51. In his 42-year career, Reeder flew more than 230 different types of aircraft, including advanced swept-wing jets. The NACA regularly released photos of experimental aircraft suspended for tests in the famous Full-Scale Tunnel (FST). The results of these tests often resulted in subtle changes to the airframes that increased
blessed from birth
blessed from birth
O A September 1949 photo of the Bell Aircraft Corporation X-1-2 and two of the NACA pilots that flew the aircraft: Robert Champine (left) and Herbert Hoover. Champine made a total of 13 flights in the X-1, plus nine in the D-558-1 and 12 in the D-558-2. Hoover made 14 flights in the X-1. On March 10, 1948, he reached Mach 1.065, becoming the first NACA pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound.
performance and safety. The FST enabled engineers to make quick changes, and retest the aircraft to validate the results. Oftentimes the changes resulted from the combination of scientific, engineering, and flight experience that characterized NACA actions. A similar approach was used in the revolutionary process by which NACA engineers, inspired by John Stack, approached the problem of converting two “standard” wind tunnels (the 8-foot and the 16-foot high speed) to testing at supersonic speeds. Doubling the tunnel’s horsepower had not achieved the necessary margin. A sustained effort by John Becker, Eugene C. Draley, Coleman duPont Donaldson, a young man named Richard Whitcomb, and others created a totally new “slotted throat” approach to avoiding “choking” in the tunnels. In a painful and protracted step-by-step process, small models were introduced with new mounting techniques and with both major and minor interior changes to the tunnel walls that ultimately made testing at supersonic speeds possible. While World War II crowded Langley with new American and foreign types, there was some criticism of the NACA’s failure to anticipate the need for a supersonic wind tunnel. NACA engineer Robert Gilruth backed tests in which models were mounted on the wings of a P-51, which then dove to a speed of Mach .75. Another approach was the far-seeing – but ignored – research of Robert T. Jones, a student of Max Munk and an expert on stability and control. Jones foresaw the advantages of a swept-back wing for high-speed flight. Unfortunately, his idea didn’t meet with full acceptance at NACA. Nonetheless, NACA embraced the jet age, with the famous Stack leading the design experiments that ultimately permitted the aerodynamic testing of the Bell X-1 in the NACA wind tunnels. (Stack, working with the NACA veteran Jean Roché and then-Maj. Ezra
Kotcher, USAAF, paved the way at NACA for testing rocket-powered aircraft). After Chuck Yeager’s seminal flight on Oct. 14, 1947, NACA test pilot Herbert Hoover became the first civilian to fly faster than the speed of sound. Another NACA star, Robert Champine, also went supersonic in the X-1, and then conducted tests on two Douglas test planes designed by the great Ed Heinemann, the D-558-1 Skystreak and its follow-on D-558-2 Skyrocket. Perhaps the most well-known NACA contribution in the postwar jet age was Whitcomb’s famous “area rule,” first applied to a Grumman F11F-4 Tiger. It was then used to salvage the Convair YF-102 design, for which Whitcomb received the Collier Trophy in 1954. Later in his career, Whitcomb was noted for the development of the supercritical airfoil in the 1960s, and a decade later, for the development of the now nearly universal “winglet” as drag reduction devices. (It should be mentioned that drawings in Roché’s notebook of the early 1930s show similar winglets, intended for exactly the same purpose.) With the advent of the “Space Age,” highlighted by the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union, NACA became the obvious organization to take up space research. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in July 1958, and on Oct. 1, 1958, the new NASA took over the NACA, including its three major research laboratories (Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory), along with 8,000 employees, its $100 million budget, and dozens of small test facilities. For many of the engineers, scientists, and test pilots, the change was in name only, for they continued their routines as in the past, eagerly greeting each new advance in aviation as NACA had done for 43 years. l
nac a memories
When NACA Was the Place to Be
They were called “brain busters” and “NACA nuts.” They were brilliant engineers, brave test pilots, and barrier-breaking women “computers” who helped make aviation history and pave the way for the space age. In the following interviews conducted by the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, NACA veterans reflect with pride on the glory of their times.
Origins and Legacy
NACA was formed because of the lack of technical capability in aerodynamics during World War I. We never had an airplane design in World War I. We built airplanes, but they were British or French designs. The committee was formed primarily to get the knowledge so that we could design our own airplanes. In World War II, then we excelled in the design of aircraft. So it was money well spent. One of the things I’m most proud of was that I was part of that organization. I started collecting pictures of airplanes when I was 4, and I first flew when I was 14. I got my pilot’s license on my 16th birthday. So I was always reading about airplanes and what was going on in the aviation world. In the literature, NACA was noted as being the people that did the research on aircraft. So if you wanted to be on top of it technically, be on the leading edge, then NACA, indeed, was the agency to do. – Milton A. Silveira, Engineer, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Later, NASA’s Chief Engineer.
– Gene A. Kenner, Instrumentation Engineer and developer of film from X-series planes at NACA’s Muroc Flight Test Unit at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
M John V. Becker.
P Langley test pilots (from left) Mel Gough, Herb Hoover, Jack Reeder, Steve Cavallo, and Bill Gray stand in front of a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter in this 1945 photo at Langley.
We went to the Smithsonian [National Air and Space Museum], and gee, the Smithsonian’s got the X-15 hanging up there. The D-558-2 is hanging up there, and there’s the X-1. There’s the lifting body M2-F3 … and the F-104 – 818 – was hanging up there. Now, I worked on some of those things. Then you can get kind of emotional about it. You think, “Wow!”
nac a memories
The Spark of Innovation
Dick Whitcomb wasn’t a highly theoretical researcher, but he was born with the innate ability to understand how air flows around objects. He would file a little here and a little there on wind tunnel models, reducing drag with each stroke of the file. The contributions of his area rule made it possible for fighter aircraft of the day to meet drag specifications, saving the nation billions in redesign costs. – Edwin C. Kilgore in “Space & Aeronautics Technology -Past and Present.” Head of Models Group, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, and later, Chief of the Flight Vehicle Systems Division at NASA Langley Research Center and NASA Associate Administrator for Management Operations.
One of my first projects was developing an idea conceived by my boss, J.W. Wetmore. My assignment was to evaluate analytically the effects of a curved ramp on the takeoff performance of catapult-launched airplanes. That is, to help get the airplane pitched to the right angle of attack and flying before dropping into the ocean. I used that as the topic of my master’s degree thesis in 1952. In 1970 the British announced that the curved ramp, or so-called ski jump technique, was being used on their aircraft carrier. We were pleased that maybe that NACA research had some influence on their choice.
– John V. Becker, Head of 16-foot Wind Tunnel Branch, Chief of Compressibility Research Division, and Chief of Aero-Physics Research Division, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.
– Wilmer H. Reed III, Engineer Flight Research Division, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory
If we hadn’t started our hypersonic program back in 1946, we wouldn’t have had the background to propose the pre-X-15 thing that we did. There probably wouldn’t have been an X-15. When we started the hypersonic business, there was no demand whatever for it. It was just a matter of it would be fun – we felt it would be fun to get out, far out, and explore what happens.
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Congratulations to NASA at the 100‐year anniversary of NACA. We greatly value our long‐term association and many collaborations among faculty, students and research scientists in both educational and research endeavors. We look forward to continuing these associations as we begin the next 100 years. Graduate student Julie Kleinhenz with microgravity combustion experiment on NASA DC‐9 airplane 2005
T. Keith Glennan, first NASA Administrator 1958 past President of Case Institute of Technology
Professors Simon Ostrach, Yasu Kamotani, Joe Prahl and the USML‐1 Team 1991
nac a memories
Most of our work on [fighter aircraft] was in determining and then improving the stability and control of the handling qualities of these planes. We had a brilliant engineer in Robert R. Gilruth, and we had a marvelous engineering test pilot in Melvin N. Gough. Together they created the bible of stability and control. The handling of all future airplanes would be based on the parameters they outlined. Up to that time, a pilot would fly an airplane, and the attitude was, “Well, if you go back and fly it a second time, it must be a good airplane.” Or the pilot would be asked, “What is it that you like about the plane?” And those early-time pioneer pilots would try to describe what it was they liked about the airplane. Whether the stick forces seemed too heavy or if the plane didn’t roll fast enough, etc. It was all kind of subjective stuff based on pilots’ opinions. Then Mel and Bob decided, “Let’s quantify this. Let’s put some numbers to these opinions.” … So all of that became a matter of negotiation, and between the two of them, the pilot and the engineer, they quantified the parameters. … It was no longer up to the designer and manufacturer to produce and present a product that was satisfactory to their designers and test pilots. It was a mandate to meet the requirements outlined by NACA. In those cases where the plane did not meet the parameters outlined, the lab would take on the problem and correct it. – Stefan A. Cavallo, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Test Pilot
Al Eggers was our Branch Chief and I was his assistant. We were trying to figure out a way to get higher lift-drag ratios for an airplane at, say, five times the speed of sound and six times the speed of sound. We were contemplating it and looking at the equations and this, that, and the other thing, and I said to Al, “We’re not going to get anywhere this way. We’ve got to find a way to change the equations.” Well, he thought about that for a little bit, and he came up with the idea of making the airplanes asymmetrical, basically, and developed a technique or an idea called interference lift. We designed up some models and tested them, and they worked pretty good. We wrote the report in 1955, and it led to the B-70, XB-70 bomber. Somebody read the paper in North American Aviation and that’s what came out of it. It all stemmed from a conversation we had one day at closing time. And then Eggers picked up on it, and I did a lot of the test work and theoretical work, and we wrote a paper, and it attracted a little attention and led to a whole airplane design. – Clarence “Sy” Syvertson, Lead, NACA Ames Aeronautical Laboratory 10-foot by 14-foot Wind Tunnel. Later, Director of NASA Ames Research Center.
M Clarence “Sy” Syvertson joins carolers at Christmas.
I did what I believe was the first analysis of the phenomenon that is now used in halogen lightbulbs. It was never published in open literature; it was published as [an] NACA Technical Memorandum. The attitude that was taken at NACA in those days was that we didn’t work with literature [scientific journals] on the outside, that we published our own stuff.
– Leonard K. Tower, Aeronautical Engineer, NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory
The Pilotless Aircraft Resarch Division under Dr. [Robert R.] Gilruth was just getting started [when I joined NACA]. That was an ideal place to be. We didn’t have the foresight that there’d be a big Space Age, but we did do a lot of different kinds of rockets, and stage the rockets, and everything else to fly various models of airplanes or parts of airplanes through the transonic speed regime and later on at speeds up to where aerodynamic heating would get to be significant. We could make a lot of tests in conditions that the wind tunnels were not able to perform. So we made a great number of flights.
We learned a lot about building rockets that would stay together during flight, which is very important, and finally, when the time came for the country to have a space agency, they looked at NACA to be the cadre agency to do this. – Maxime “Max” Faget, Head of NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Performance Aerodynamics Branch, designer of blunt-body approach used for the NASA Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules
We at Langley were studying that [getting an airplane to go at least twice as fast as the X-15] as well as Ames and other NACA laboratories. A meeting was set in October of 1957. A couple of weeks before that meeting, the Russians put up their Sputnik. … At that meeting the discussion then was … maybe we shouldn’t try to fly up to those velocities with airplanes, but maybe we ought to bypass the airplane role and go directly into rocketry to get us up to those velocities. We talked about rocketing men up into orbital velocity and how to get them back and so forth. Harvey [H. Julian] Allen was, of course, a great scientist at Ames Research Laboratory, and he was the one who came out with the blunt-body theory. Both the Army and Air Force were having trouble bringing their missile warheads down to ground zero, and he just simply said, “Well, if you make the drag a little higher, you’ll get down there. You won’t get down as fast, but you’ll get down there without burning up.” I won’t go into all the reasons for this, but what he’d done made an awful lot of sense to me. So when I got back to Langley and started looking at blunt bodies with at least a couple of my colleagues that are on that paper, Ben [Benjamin J.] Garland [and James J. Buglia] … We did come up with, in a matter of I guess three or four weeks, a pretty good idea of what to do. And then within a couple of months, we were able to write that paper [RM L58E07a]. If you look at that paper, there isn’t hardly anything to do with capsule design which wasn’t predicted in that paper. It was a pretty neat paper. We did a pretty good job of scanning all the possibilities of that thing. – Maxime “Max” Faget
Working With Industry
We worked quite closely with the aircraft companies. Recall that back in those days, Ames, Langley [Aeronautical Laboratory, Hampton, Virginia] and Lewis [Flight Propulsion Research Laboratory, Cleveland, Ohio], and the High-Speed Flight Station [Edwards AFB, California] were considered the research centers, and most of the things that we worked on weren’t expected to come to fruition, to go into a real airplane or into flight for maybe 10, 15 years.
O Maxime “Max” Faget.
– Victor L. Peterson, Chief of Thermo and Gas Dynamics Division and Chief of Aerodynamics Branch, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory. Later, Deputy Director, NASA Ames Research Center.
nac a memories
After the war, the commercial companies were very interested in NACA research. We had an advantage in those days, which NASA doesn’t have now at Langley. Now everything is proprietary. Boeing is reluctant to put a model in a wind tunnel at Langley, because they are obligated to make that data public. Then Martin Marietta [now Lockheed Martin] gets ahold of it, and then everybody else in the world gets hold of it, Airbus and so forth. That’s the way that the government is set up. So Langley can do basic research because it’s available to everybody, but they’re highly constrained as to what work they can do for Boeing or what work they can do for Martin or so forth. That wasn’t the case back in the early days. Aeronautics was still in its infancy, commercial aeronautics in particular. So everybody climbed on board. People were tickled to death to have their models put in the wind tunnels, and then the data was distributed everywhere. The big companies … all came out as the upper-most companies in that field because they used the data more wisely than other people did. But that’s kind of a major difference between the aeronautics program of today and the aeronautics program then. The aeronautics program then was the aeronautics program for the United States of America. There were a few others that were contributing pieces here, but NACA was it. You learn in management school that you can’t run anything with a committee. Committees are terrible. But NACA was probably the best-run organization that I ever worked for. NACA was run by a committee. It had people like Jimmy Doolittle and Orville Wright, Jerome Hunsaker, the real pioneers in aviation, on the committee. The other reason it worked is that they only met once a year, and they reviewed what Langley and what Lewis had done, and they decided that, “Well, that’s very good, but we need to do this and this and this.” They were reflecting the views of the aeronautics community for the whole U.S. We’re missing it a lot now. – Edwin C. Kilgore
We tested a model for Howard Hughes. The nice thing about that model was it was not an exact model of what he had in mind building, because he was afraid that we would learn all about that, and we would all have access to his data, and we would profit by that, and we could tell other people about it. So he designed a model which would teach him what he wanted to know, but that didn’t look like his final airplane [XF-11]. The airplane was one that he crashed in and was almost killed, that was what the final airplane was. Virginius Clark [former NACA member and consultant to Hughes Aircraft Company] knew Hughes very well. Said Hughes would call him up in the middle of the night with an idea and make him come over. He would be in bed with one of his starlets and she would be asleep, and they would talk in whispers so not to wake her up. They were talking about aerodynamics and all. – John V. Becker
The NACA Way
The first Center Director out here [Ames], “Smitty” [Smith J.] DeFrance, was a dirigible pilot back in the 1930s. He used to kid about the old days when Ames first started and it came time to prepare the annual budget. So they would call up the centers and say, “Prepare your budgets.” So Smitty would sit down with his people and they would put together a one-page letter and submit it, and that’s the budget for the Ames Research Center for 1943, say, or whatever.
That was how simple things worked, and yet the output of the organization was horrendously great. So it just goes to show that you don’t have to have a bureaucracy of thousands to make something go, if you’ve got the right people. – Victor L. Peterson
nac a memories
Back in the early days, there was competition between the centers, but it was very friendly. Langley was working in aerodynamics. We were working in aerodynamics. Lewis was less of a competitor, because they had kind of an isolated mission in propulsion. … Every couple of years we would have an NACA aerodynamics national meeting, and each center would prepare its best people and papers, and send them. We would get together and present our papers and share the results and talk about it and say, “Well, that’s pretty good, but I think we can do better. We’ll try.” … It was a little bit like athletics, like the Olympics. It’s competition. You’re trying to do better because that’s just your goal in life – to be in the top in your business. – Victor L. Peterson
Cliff Morris was a technician in our shop, or an instrument mechanic. He was a very good friend of Pancho’s [Pancho Barnes, owner of The Happy Bottom Riding Club, immortalized in The Right Stuff ]. Well, the Air Force, they were getting ready to take Pancho’s place out there, and they were going to confiscate it. Eminent domain type thing. So she wanted to get the general of the base into court … so she subpoenaed the general, but she couldn’t get on the base to serve it. So she got Cliff to go down there, and fortunately, it was lunchtime. He went down there and served those papers to the general. Well, when he got back to the shop, there was a call to Walt Williams [Chief of NACA’s Muroc Flight Test Unit aka High Speed Flight Research Station at Edwards AFB, California] at the station there, and he said, “Who was that guy who came down there and served these papers? I’d like to see him fired.” Well, Cliff, he didn’t do anything illegal. He did it at lunch time, and it was on his own time. So that was a big flap. We had a good time with that. – Gene A. Kenner
When I joined the NACA in 1946, there was a great number of World War II veterans like myself. Most of the people that came into the NACA were young, very young people who had spent two, three, four years in the war. A great number of them were not married. So we kind of like had a great time back there for three or four years until we all got married. We did a lot of cutting up and stuff like that. But at the same time, having been through the war, I think the experience of the war gave everyone a sense of urgency to get on with the work. The big thing then was to get into jet-powered airplanes, get into supersonic airplanes and things like that. There was just a great number of very important technology developments that faced the future. – Maxime “Max” Faget
Abe Silverstein epitomized the NACA in many ways for me. I’ve been told he said once, “The problem with the NACA is that Langley gets all the people, Lewis gets all the money, and Ames gets all the brains.” Now, of course, we liked that one. – Clarence “Sy” Syvertson
Wherever he [Dr. Edward Sharp, Director NACA Lewis] went in the world, he’d say, “You ever get to Cleveland, come and see us.” We never knew who was going to pop up. One day, the front gate called me and said, “Irene, the Duke of Windsor’s here,” and I started to laugh. Sure enough, he’d been in Cleveland for something, and he remembered Doc Sharp’s offer to come out there, so he just walked in. I called my boss, and I went in: I says, “You won’t believe this, but he’s down at the desk.” He got up and he ran down. I never saw him move so fast. … About 12:15 or so, I was at my desk and the phone rang, and my boss was on the phone, and he said, “Irene, would you pick up that folder in the corner of my desk and bring it over to me in the dining room?” I said to myself, “What does he need that for?” He did it so I could meet the Duke of Windsor. … He [the Duke] says to me, “How are you, young lady?” He took my hand and he kissed it. I was so thrilled. I was 18 years old. – Irene M. Geye, Secretary to the Director, NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory
In those days, the organizational structure was a lot simpler, too. … There were two layers of management we have today that didn’t exist in those days, so it was easy to get things done, easy to try new things, and you were given a hell of a lot of freedom. If something worked, you could do just about anything you wanted. – Clarence “Sy” Syvertson
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nac a memories
This is how informal it was. I remember once at lunchtime a couple of guys had got into an argument during the morning about whose car was faster. Somebody had an old ’37 Chevy and somebody had a sports car. So Harvey Allen, who was Ames’ second director, but a division chief at this time, refereed a drag race down the main street of Ames, which I don’t think would happen anymore. – Clarence “Sy” Syvertson
Chris Kraft told me once that he thought the way the NACA did business, of getting the theoretical idea, designing the models, laying out the test program, running the test, analyzing the data, and writing the report, made some of the best systems engineers. – Clarence “Sy” Syvertson
In 1957, we had what they called inspections [open houses] of the new high energy rocket facility in South Forty at Lewis Research Center. John F. Victory, the Secretary of the NACA, was a little bit critical at our rehearsal about what we were doing to show off this facility … overhead we had a panoramic view of the sky, and we were talking about how high energy would enhance our possibilities for [space] payloads. I think he was a little bit afraid that would be too strong a story, too Buck-Rogery. So he advised us to take down some of the stars and satellites that we had up there on this panoramic sky, and talk more about ballistic trajectories. Well, after Sputnik we didn’t hear anything more, and we didn’t take down our exhibits. In fact, we enhanced them and even put a Sputnik up there to show people where it was going. – Robert W. Graham, Head, Rocket Fluid Dynamics Section, NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory
The Test Pilots
He was just a smart, capable individual. Very calm, and he never seemed to get uptight about much of anything. But, the morning that he had his accident, after breakfast – he had a nice singing voice, and he left singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Everything’s going my way.” And then about midmorning, a chaplain came to my house. – Ruth Hoover Smull, Wife of Herbert (Herb) Hoover, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Experimental Test Pilot, the second person to break the sound barrier, who was killed in the 1952 crash of a B-45 jet bomber
Because I was in the lead [while test flying a P-51 fighter during World War II to understand the effect of high gust loads on the planes], I found a suitable cloud and flew into it. I experienced instant and considerable roughness. The accelerometer on the instrumental panel hit the limits of plus 12 and minus 4. But these loads were of short duration and similar to the loads I had experienced on the preliminary tests. The flight continued through very rough air for some time. Suddenly, I noticed a hole appear in the cowling in front of me. It was about the diameter of a piston. Strangely, it didn’t seem significant nor was there any effects for the moment. Then the oil pressure started to decrease and the RPMs started to increase. There was a sharp jolt as the engine threw a propeller blade. A wave of yellow flame swept back over the top of the canopy. I had come out of the clouds at that point and [Bob] Baker was alongside of me at about 1 mile distance. … When the fire broke out, Baker radioed me to bail out. I jettisoned the canopy, took off my helmet and seat belt and started a roll to the right. I thought it would be easier to bail out if the plane was inverted and if I just fell out of it. I rolled the plane over and tried to stay out of a dive by holding the plane level.
This caused the flames to go under the plane and away from me. And as the plane continued into the roll, I started to slide up the side of the cockpit while still holding onto the stick. As a result, I never got completely inverted before I started to slide out of the plane. I was hit in the face by the 180 mph air velocity and had to let go of the stick. I grabbed for my knees and went out between the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces. It was fortuitous that the plane was neither level nor at a 90-degree angle, because I wouldn’t have passed between the tail surfaces as easily as I did. I can still see the vertical numbers on the tail as it went by. It was obvious then that it was not the wings that were failing in this gust load condition; it was the engine that was failing. This was something that no one had mentioned. … While the wings had been designed to take gust loads, the engine piston rods were not. There were hundreds of P-51s flying in combat. It would be impossible to retrofit all those planes. The only rational conclusion was not to fly P-51s into storm clouds. However, I never saw this written in the P-51 manual or even mentioned again. – Stefan A. Cavallo
nac a memories
M Dr. Abe Silverstein (left) points out features on a prototype ramjet aircraft to Edward R. Sharp, Director of the NACA Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1955 I went back to Purdue University … and the University of Illinois to recruit. On this particular occasion, the agency was advertising for a test pilot for the X-15, and luckily, I had somebody respond at Purdue. He was named Neil Armstrong. … The thing that impressed me was he was so articulate and wasn’t interested in any of the fringe benefits. He was just interested in the position. … So I have the distinction of the first approval of this young man to be part of NACA.
[During the longest X-15 flight on record] we went to somewhat above 200,000 feet, well outside the atmosphere, so that we were completely flying on reaction controls up there, aerodynamic controls were completely ineffective, like flying in a vacuum. Then we had a system limit built into the flight control system that would automatically prevent you from exceeding 5 gs. If you hit 5 gs, it would automatically put controls in to hold it below 5 gs, and one of the things I wanted to do was demonstrate that that part of the system worked. It had never been yet demonstrated in flight. That was my responsibility to do that. We tried this many times in the simulator without any difficulty, but when we really did it in flight, I couldn’t quite achieve 5 gs, so I kept pulling to try to get the g limiter to work. In the process, I got the nose up above the horizon. We’d done this in the simulator, never had any problem with it. But I found when I did it in real flight, I was actually skipping outside the atmosphere again. I had no aerodynamic controls. That was not a particular problem, because I still have reaction controls to use, but what I couldn’t do is get back down in the atmosphere. I rolled over and tried to drop back into the atmosphere, but the aircraft wasn’t going down because there was no air to bite into. So I just had to wait until I fell low enough to have aerodynamic control and some lift on the wings, then immediately started making a turn back. But by that time I’d gone well south of Edwards. It wasn’t clear at the time I made the turn whether I would be able to get back to Edwards. That wasn’t a great concern to me because there were other dry lakes available there. I wouldn’t want to go into another one, but I certainly would if I needed to. Eventually, I could see that we were going to make it back to Edwards, so I landed without incident on the south part of the lake. – Neil A. Armstrong N Neil A. Armstrong and the X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake after a flight.
– Robert W. Graham
The only product of the NACA was research reports and papers. So when you prepared something for publication, either as a principal or associate author of some sort, you had to face the “Inquisition,” which was the review of said paper by experts who were predominantly lady English teachers or librarians who were absolutely unbearably critical of the tiniest punctuation or grammatical error, and that is what NASA needs today [laughter], because it really made a good product. The rigor of the language, which I never mastered, but I appreciated after being exposed to those charming ladies who were so tough. – Neil A. Armstrong, Test Pilot, NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory and NACA High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base. Later, NASA Gemini and Apollo astronaut and NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics.
nac a memories
I always felt that the risks that we had in the space side of the program were probably less than we had back in flying at Edwards or the general flight-test community. The reason is that when we were out exploring the frontiers, we were out at the edges of the flight envelope all the time, testing limits. Our knowledge base was probably not as good as it was in the space program. We had less technical insurance, less minds looking, less backup programs, less other analysis going on. That isn’t to say that we didn’t expect risks in the space program; we certainly expected they would be there, were guaranteed that they would be there. But we felt pretty comfortable because we had so much technical backup and we didn’t go nearly close to the limits as much as we did back in the old flight-test days.
– Neil A. Armstrong
Before it was Dryden, before it was Flight Research Center, it was called NACA High Speed Flight Station, and they were working on the problems of high-speed, high-altitude flight. They were looking ahead to days when we would fly hypersonically and eventually even further, hoping to solve the problems along the way that would allow that to happen. It wasn’t something we talked a lot about, because in those days space flight was not generally regarded as a realistic objective, and it was a bit pie-in-the-sky. So although we were working toward that end, it was not something we acknowledge much publicly. Not necessarily for fear of ridicule, but probably somewhat. – Neil A. Armstrong
N The X-15 made 199 flights between June 1959 and October 1968. Until the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981, the X-15 held the world altitude and speed records for winged aircraft.
– Neil A. Armstrong
I thought it [The Right Stuff ] was very good filmmaking, but terrible history; the wrong people working on the wrong projects at the wrong times. It bears no resemblance whatever to what was actually going on.
nac a memories
Brain Busters and NACA Nuts
Bob Gilruth was head of the Flight Research Program at Langley, a very bright guy. He was one of 10,000 people who took the Federal Service Exam for a job at Langley, and he’s the one that got it. That’s a pretty highly selective method of getting a job. Many of the Langley engineers were of equal caliber. One fellow, for example, was head of all the supersonic research programs in Italy during the war, was helped to escape and brought to Langley. … It was a highly selective program, and we were all known as “Brain Busters” by the Hampton locality, and the locality didn’t have too much fondness for the Brain Busters. We were different people, and it took a long time for them to really accept us as a part of the community.
NACA’s Women “Computers”
I was scared to go there, because when I was growing up on the base, the NACA people were called NACA Nuts, and they were strange individuals, very smart. … Well maybe somebody had gone into a hardware store to find a certain screw or spring or something like that, and they would be very analytical in what they were doing – and the people would say, “Okay, we know you’re at NACA.”
We had a large office, filled with engineers. It was just one big room. Past that, we had the computers – the women – in a small office. … I was assigned to one of those Friden machines. … We just filled in columns and just did what a computer would have done in a few minutes. We worked all day, punching the Friden machines. … We could go down and get a Coke, but we couldn’t stop punching that little machine while we drank it.
– Gloria Champine, Secretary, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Later, Manager, Affirmative Action and FWP Programs, NASA Langley Research Center.
– Mary Ann Johnson, NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory “Computer”
– Edwin C. Kilgore
M Langley's human computers at work in 1947. The female staff at Langley performed mathematical computations for male researchers.
Interviews were edited in some cases for grammar and length. Interview credits: Rebecca Wright, Sandra Johnson, and Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. Jim Slade, interview with Maxime Faget. Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, interview with Neil A. Armstrong.
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s t r at e gic t h rus t
Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS), there are more than 87,000 flights every single day, with approximately 5,000 of them in the air at any moment. The United States averages 64 million takeoffs and landings a year, or more than 7,000 every hour, carrying 660 million passengers annually as well as more than 37 billion cargo-revenue tons of freight. If this seems a massive undertaking, consider that by 2025 airspace demands are expected to multiply. Already, the construction of airports and runways is falling behind the increases in air traffic, and there are limits to the amount of land available to build them. Even if resources and land for airports were unlimited, the actual amount of airspace over those airports, the
nation, and indeed the globe is finite. There is only so much airspace available, and it is becoming increasingly congested. This means not only jam-packed airports and more and longer delays, but an increasing strain on air traffic controllers as they provide safe operations in these crowded skies. Over the last two decades, NASA engineers and program representatives within the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) have helped enable a safer, more secure, efficient, and environmentally friendly air transportation system through supporting the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System or “NextGen” transformation of the National Airspace.
By scott R. gourley
S a f e , e f f i c i e n t G r o w t h i n G lo b a l O p e r at i o n s
O A FACET graphic depicting air traffic from given airports. Making air travel safer and more efficient even as demand grows is one of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Strategic Thrusts.
NextGen will transition the nation’s air traffic control network from a system centered on ground-based radars to an expanded space-based system of satellites, radars, and onboard systems and software. “We’re a research house,” said Dr. John Cavolowsky, program director for ARMD’s new Airspace Operations and Safety Program (AOSP). “We do a lot of advanced development. We will build software tools. We will work in close connection with the FAA to verify that those tools work in real environments. What the FAA then does is take our algorithms, take our software, and they work with a contractor – an FAA contractor – to make sure that they are hardened for use by the organizations that fly, the FAA as well as airlines, and make sure they’re safe and integrated into the system. So we do a lot of the heavy lifting up front, but that implementation of the final piece is done by the FAA. That’s the way we’ve done this for decades now. That’s the way we’re going to continue to do it, because it’s not our job to implement, but it’s our job to bring attention to these capabilities that can benefit the operation the FAA provides for the flying public and for the airlines both nationally and internationally.” Through the development of tools, technologies, and programs like Traffic Management Advisor, Efficient Descent Advisor, Precision Departure Release Capability, and Terminal Sequencing and Spacing, and the subsequent transfer of these NASA development programs to the FAA, NASA has helped to establish the foundation for NextGen and enable it to fulfill its promise to revolutionize the safety and efficiency of air travel.
Foundation: Traffic Management Advisor
According to Thomas Davis, Airspace Automation Technology Advisor at NASA Ames Research Center, the origins of NASA’s support of the FAA go back several decades. “The whole thing really began back in the very late 1970s or early 1980s,” he said, identifying a key researcher behind the initial effort as Dr. Heinz Erzberger. Erzberger saw that flight deck technologies were advancing at a brisk pace, and was part of the creation of concepts such as optimized descents on a flight path management system, Davis explained. “He believed that you could take that math and that modeling and put it on the ground to use it to the advantage of air traffic controllers.” “So, by not just calculating the flight trajectory for the individual aircraft you’re flying as to what’s going to happen and what’s the most efficient thing to happen, you could put the capability on the ground in a ground system and compute that for all of the aircraft in the airspace,” Davis said. “From that you could add things like optimized scheduling of arrival traffic to create additional efficiencies. You could also build advisories that controllers could issue to pilots that would align with flight management system calculations – like descend at a specific speed at idle thrust; begin the descent at this point – so now there was a joining of what the controller was advising and what the pilot was able to execute in an efficient manner. Then, as you start to do that across all of the aircraft in a piece of airspace, you’re going to add efficiency to the system.” Davis said that another young engineer on the team “had the idea that he could take Heinz’s algorithms and models, put them in a workstation, network it together, provide a graphical user interface, and now you’ve really got something. You had the computer science part of it joining up with the guidance and control system part of it.” Team members began to implement some of the concept on a network of Sun workstations. The process included the early building of actual tools, like the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA).
O The Traffic Management Advisor (TMA) tool in operation at Denver TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control). The NASA-developed TMA has become the foundation for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) time-based traffic flow management system.
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O NASA and FAA traffic management coordinators review the Precision Departure Release Capability (PDRC) system at the North Texas Research Station lab in February 2012. A field evaluation of the system took place later in 2012, and PDRC was transferred from NASA to the FAA in 2013.
TMA provides graphical displays and alerts, and generates statistics and reports about air traffic flow for controllers. TMA also computes the undelayed estimated time of arrival (ETA) as well as the sequences and scheduled times of arrival to the outer meter arc, meter fix, final approach fix, and runway threshold for each aircraft, to help controllers set and meet sequencing and scheduling schemes. The TMA also assigns each aircraft to a runway to optimize the scheduled time of arrival (STA), according to NASA. The NASA-developed TMA technology provided the foundation for the FAA’s timebased traffic flow management system and has become an ubiquitous part of the National Airspace. Describing the early operational test experience with TMA, Davis recalled, “We put TMA into operation at the Ft. Worth en route air traffic control center and began to test in live traffic. Our engineers would go down there for two weeks at a time and test the system; not for 24 hours a day but for specific busy time periods, maybe five to seven times a day. And of course there were all kinds of safety protocols in place, such as if something started to go wrong they had a way to shut it down. And there were other safety protocols as well.” “But it worked,” he said. “Maybe the early version didn’t work 100 percent of the time, but it worked a lot of the time and really well. And they were starting to gain some efficiency by using it. “The FAA had had their own metering program in place that generated estimates of when aircraft should arrive at certain points and they presented that in a tabular list on their monochrome radar display,” he said, “Well, TMA was now presenting really accurate predictions and scheduling – like plus or minus half a minute – based on real aircraft models, like genuine models of 737s and 757s and MD-80s. So it was not only a lot more accurate, but it was presenting it in a graphical format with user-interface features to manage the system that turned out to be easier for the traffic managers to use.”
“Over the course of that testing period, which lasted about a year, the controllers reported really liking it. TMA was adding efficiency to the system, so the airlines were, in general, liking it too. They were realizing that metering traffic by time, rather than just separating it by distance, allowed you to land more aircraft and reduce the arrival flight time by a couple minutes per aircraft. So more airplanes were getting on the ground in a shorter period of time and individual flights were saving a minute or two off their flight times. If you say one or two minutes, as a passenger you probably don’t notice it. But as an airline, especially big airlines, you definitely notice it. The accumulation of those savings adds up quickly.” In spite of some challenges in early implementation attempts in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the FAA ultimately deployed TMA to all 20 en route centers and some terminal facilities as a traffic management tool. Taking TMA Further
Building on the success of TMA, NASA began researching its next capability developments in programs like Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA); Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (TSS); and Precision Departure Release Capability (PDRC). EDA was transferred to the FAA in January 2012. EDA is a tool for air traffic controllers that synchronizes the descents of all arriving aircraft so that each can maintain a continuous descent approach that minimizes noise and emissions while avoiding other traffic and maximizing runway throughput, rather than the former system that works almost like a series of stair steps at descending flight levels and often included maneuvering on different courses to avoid other air traffic. EDA advises aircraft and controllers of where and when to initiate the descent as well as the speed to maintain in the descent. The tool works in synergy with the TMA tool, which creates a time-based metering arrival schedule that
O Controllers use Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA) in a simulation. Transferred to the FAA in January 2012, EDA works in conjunction with TMA and enables controllers to synchronize the descents of all arriving aircraft so that each can maintain a continuous descent approach, thereby maximizing runway efficiency.
build our new software. We built an initial concept on our old TMA from the early 2000s, until we saw that the technology concept was viable. Next we had technology interchange meetings with the FAA and we explored whether we had a match. Once we agreed that we in fact did have a good concept, we would take their latest version of TMA (now called Time-Based Flow Management or TBFM) back into our lab and then rebuild the new capability on top of that.” “So now we’re in a cycle where every time the FAA releases a new version of TBFM, which happens approximately annually, that version of software comes back to our lab and we add our technology on top of it. Today, when they get our technologies, they are getting their most up to date software version with this new capability on top of it. As you can imagine, that makes it a lot easier for them to deploy and possibly a lot cheaper too,” he added. Davis described the technology transfer relationship between NASA and the FAA as constantly improving. Instead of trying to convince the FAA that a particular NASA innovation is viable, which was initially how this type of work began, there is now a continuing dialog with FAA’s NextGen technologists, including some of their chief scientists for NextGen. Together, the FAA and NASA participate in Research Transition Teams to decide what are some of the most promising technologies, such that once NASA completes development and testing, the FAA is well aware of the technology and can prepare to receive it. Developing New Tools
PDRC is not the end of the story concerning precision departures. NASA is working today on ExtendPDRC, which expands the PDRC domain into an environment that contains several nearby airports, and therefore several overhead streams of air traffic.
EDA aims to meet with its continuous descent approach solutions for maximum runway efficiency. TSS was transferred to the FAA in July 2014. It is designed to aid controllers working the airspace known as Terminal Radar Approach Control, or TRACON, helping to determine where each aircraft should be relative to others in order to maintain fuel-efficient, continuous-descent approaches. The TRACON airspace surrounds an airport, beginning five miles from the airport and extending outward about another 35 miles. TSS indicates to controllers at what speed each aircraft should fly in order to maintain spacing with other aircraft and smoothly merge together with other air traffic before being handed off to airport controllers for final approach and clearance to land. PDRC was transferred to the FAA in 2013. Heavy aircraft traffic at an airport or bad weather can cause fluctuations in departure times, and therefore missed opportunities for the delayed flights to smoothly merge into the flow of high altitude airline traffic. PDRC has two components: a surface model and an en route model. The surface model predicts both departure times and runways, and sends the information to en route centers. PDRC’s en route model then provides climb trajectories from takeoff to the point where the aircraft merges into the high altitude air traffic stream. The tool helps fill slots in the high altitude traffic flow that would otherwise be empty due to delays on the ground at individual airports. A feature shared by the three most recent transfers – EDA, TSS, and PDRC – is that they were all built on the base TMA technology. “We took the FAA’s version of TMA as a platform and then added a lot of capability to it to create these other capabilities,” Davis said. “That’s another thing that makes the transition very nice for the FAA: they can use their own platform to go further. In fact, in the TSS development, and to some degree in the PDRC development, we actually recycled their software to
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“In the D.C. area, for example, you have Baltimore Washington International, Dulles International, and Reagan National,” Cavolowsky said. “The arrival and the departure paths of those airports create interesting dependencies and timing and interaction. So the extension of PDRC is supporting efficient departures and insertion of overhead streams where multiple airport considerations are a concern. Looking at it from the D.C. area is one thing, but extrapolating that to efficient, complex departure paths around a metroplex is where there is opportunity for that to be improved.” Similarly, NASA researchers have begun flighttesting for ASTAR, or Airborne Spacing for Terminal Arrival Routes, which promises to reduce environmental impacts and improve the efficiency of aircraft spacing along a flight path. A complement to TSS, the controller-directed spacing tool, the ASTAR computer software is designed to give pilots specific speed information and guidance in the cockpit, showing when they are over or under an optimum speed, to keep a set interval on the aircraft in front of them on the same flight path to a destination airport. The tool would make possible a “follow the leader” approach that would enable pilots to keep their aircraft more precisely spaced with others. The software is being flighttested aboard Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 787 aircraft. Another tool undergoing real-world testing is Dynamic Weather Routes, or DWR, a computer software tool that constantly analyzes air traffic and
M A screenshot of the Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR) tool developed by NASA. DWR constantly analyzes air traffic and weather and will determine the most efficient alternate flight routes in the event a flight might encounter potentially hazardous weather conditions.
identifies storms threatening enough to require course changes by aircraft. The software then determines routes that will allow aircraft to fly more efficiently to their destinations while avoiding dangerous weather conditions and sends an alert to an airline flight dispatcher. American Airlines and the FAA have been evaluating the tool in field trials since 2012, and have found substantial savings in fuel and time. While NASA has provided a number of tools to make the airspace safer and more efficient, another area of research is how to achieve such efficiencies where the domains of air and ground intersect and interact. “That integration of arrival, surface, and departure is a major challenge,” said Cavolowsky. “We are working with the FAA to develop an integrated solution. “We call it IADS: integrated arrival departure surface work. That is our next big challenge that we’re stepping up to. We are building these pieces as domain elements. And surface is part of the domain. So we have a tool that we’re working to help provide efficient scheduling of surface traffic that we are going to be merging with our arrival piece, so we have the surface transit from runway to gate and then also from gate to runway for departure and interface with the PDRC capability. So that’s our next task.”
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These tools will be further developed and tested as an integrated package through Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstrations (ATD), ongoing simulations that constitute a powerful way of evaluating and testing the interaction and synergies of new tools and technologies. Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstrations
The ATD project is a collection of technology development and demonstration activities targeting nearterm benefits to stakeholders in the air transportation system. These NASA-developed technologies are designed to work with elements of NextGen, and are tested through rigorous simulations at NASA’s two air traffic observation laboratories, or ATOLs. At the ATOLS, researchers test everything from operational concepts and algorithms to flight deck displays. They also are testing and evaluating the integration of new vehicles, such as unmanned aerial systems, into the National Airspace System. Cavolowsky stresses that the ATD activities are testing tools that will be delivered to the FAA in the near term. “In our portfolio, we set this up about a yearand-a-half or two years ago and said we want to make a difference near-term with the FAA – make a difference for NextGen.” FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta has likened the FAA’s infrastructure of routes and the radars, air traffic control centers, and technologies that serve them to iPads, describing the tools that NASA develops as being akin to iPad applications, or apps. “The FAA provides their infrastructure, their iPad,” Cavolowsky said. “We want to provide some important apps and decision support tools that will allow them to get the efficiency out of that infrastructure improvement they’ve put in. If we’re going to make a difference in NextGen – which is a 2025 expectation from FAA – to their stakeholders on Capitol Hill and the community, we have to be delivering these apps, the ATD tools in a time frame that is roughly 2020, because they need time to take that and work it into their implementation plans and insert into the system. So the Interval Management/Terminal Area Precision Spacing and Scheduling (IM-TAPSS) work, the surface and integrated arrival and departure surface work, applied traffic flow management for weather improvement en route – those are all things we are delivering to the FAA and to the community by 2020 so that they can extract that value near-term.” One of the key elements of NextGen, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), uses Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to communicate precise, real-time position data with pilots and air traffic controllers, enabling safe separation of
aircraft in the sky and on runways. Another important component, a networked system of global weather data, streams real-time information to pilots, aircraft, and controllers throughout the airspace. Convective weather, such as thunderstorms, currently causes about 70 percent of commercial aviation’s flight delays. ATD activities include: • The IM-TAPSS activity, which will demonstrate a set of arrival management software technologies. Using the more accurate and timely information provided via ADS-B and other NextGen technologies, IM-TAPSS will reduce the need for extensive coordination and negotiation between pilots and ground controllers. Onboard interval management tools, for example, will help guide pilot decisions to speed up or slow down, to merge precisely and optimize spacing relative to other aircraft before and during descent. • The Integrated Arrival/Departure/Surface (IADS) activity will establish and adjust precision schedules for airports at gates and on runways, enabling arrival and departure fixes while ensuring efficient aircraft trajectory. The goal, according to ARMD, is to reduce the “unnecessary buffer imposed by the human workload” associated with these tasks, especially when traffic density is high. • The Applied Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) activity will explore and develop technologies to execute optimally efficient flight paths. ARMD estimates that about 65 percent of the delays that occur today are potentially avoidable, and ATFM will demonstrate a suite of support tools, aircraft-based technologies, and real-time probabilistic weather information designed to avoid delays when possible. • The Technologies for Assuring Safe Energy and Attitude State (TASEAS) activity is aimed at identifying risks and providing the knowledge needed to avoid, detect, mitigate, and recover from hazardous flight conditions. TASEAS activities will focus on enabling pilots to better understand and respond safely to complex situations – and will focus particularly on stall recognition and recovery to avoid loss of control accidents. An air traveler today will see numerous advances in commercial aircraft technology without even knowing that NASA developed them, from supercritical wings and winglets to more efficient high-bypass turbofan engines, from composite structures to the glass cockpits and fly-by-wire controls for pilots on the flight deck, and many more that lie beneath the skin. Some of the agency’s greatest contributions to commercial flight, however, remain invisible to the 1.7 million air travelers who take to the skies every day. NASA has made vital contributions to creating a 21st century “highway in the sky,” and continues to develop tools and technologies to make air travel ever safer and more efficient. l
commercial supersonic aircr af t
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Supporting Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft ew people today realize that supersonic research is actually represented in the familiar NASA insignia. The red chevron element on the NASA â€œmeatballâ€? logo is actually an artistic rendering of an arrow wing model that was developed for supersonic applications by Clinton E. Brown and F. Edward McLean, and wind-tunnel-tested in the late-1950s. A NASA historical monograph prepared by Joseph R. Chambers (NASA
SP-2005-4539) notes that the model had been observed on display by James J. Modarelli from the NACA Lewis Laboratory, and Modarelli and his graphic artists later included it in the adopted NASA insignia. The arrow wing element was entirely appropriate for the agency that had been a key contributor to the breaking of the sound barrier by the Bell X-1 more than a decade earlier. In fact, at the time that new NASA insignia
By scott R. gourley
commercial supersonic aircr af t
O An updated future aircraft design concept from NASA research partner Lockheed Martin. It is a good example of how simulations and wind tunnel tests, conducted over time, generate data that tell researchers how to improve a design. The goals for a future supersonic aircraft are to produce a much lower-level sonic boom and to reduce emissions. The ultimate goal is to achieve a low enough boom that a current ruling prohibiting supersonic flight over land might be lifted.
was adopted, the nation’s first satellites were orbiting the Earth, and the agency had a fleet of experimental aircraft that were pushing the envelope beyond Mach 3 and investigating myriad designs and concepts. The X-15, approaching its first powered flight, would soon fly four times faster than sound at the edge of space. A sky full of supersonic transports seemed inevitable. “In the late-’50s, it’s just amazing how fast we got to thinking about ‘commercial aircraft flying supersonic,” said Project Manager for Commercial Supersonic Technology Peter Coen, offering the example of the Super Sonic Transport (SST) Study Group “that NACA and then NASA were participants in, eventually leading to the creation of the U.S. SST program, which was actually run by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration].” The SST program coincided with “an explosion of research and development related to bringing that U.S. SST aircraft program to flight,” Coen said. Following the creation of that program, he said that NASA became “heavily involved in all of the development and evaluation of the SST concepts” from Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing. “At that time, they were all contributing designs, and eventually Boeing was selected,” he explained, noting that some of the early research looked at sonic boom noise reduction for supersonic aircraft. In fact, some of NASA’s original sonic boom reduction research was conducted by Harry Carlson and none other than F. Edward McLean, whose wing it was on the NASA logo. “By that point in time, NASA had a series of concept configurations that got the name SCAT – Supersonic Commercial Air Transport – that explored the application of high-performance wing configurations to supersonic air transport,” he added. Dreams of an American supersonic transport were ultimately grounded, however, when the SST was cancelled in 1972, chiefly due to environmental and economic issues. The resources and effort needed to develop technologies to resolve those issues simply weren’t available at the time. The problems the SST had to overcome included pollution of the upper atmosphere and depletion of the ozone layer through jet emissions; sonic booms; and the noise levels generated by the types of engines needed for supersonic cruising speeds. “But recognizing that part of the reason the U.S. SST program failed was lack of technology, NASA actually
continued supersonic research through the Supersonic Cruise Aircraft Research [SCAR] program, and the later Supersonic Cruise Research [SCR] program,” Coen said. “And those programs lasted until about 1980, with, again, lots of work on things like a fundamental understanding of supersonic flow, improvements for aerodynamics, improvements to the low-speed performance of supersonic airplanes, high-performance inlets, and nozzles – just a wealth of research activities.” The early ’80s marked something of a brief hiatus in large-scale supersonic research, with no major identified supersonic cruise research program. “Then in the mid- to late-’80s, pushed by the Executive Branch from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, there were significant activities to reinvest in aeronautics,” he said. “The policy recommended that the United States pursue leadership in subsonic aircraft, supersonic aircraft, and hypersonic aircraft. That eventually led to the Advanced Subsonic Technology [AST] program, High Speed Civil Transport [HSCT] study contract – which became the High Speed Research [HSR] program – and also ‘The Orient Express,’ as President [Ronald] Reagan called it, that eventually led to the National Aero Space Plane [NASP].” The NASP concept, actually a hypersonic vehicle, highlights the significant contributory research overlaps between areas like supersonic and hypersonic performance. As another example of overlapping technology, Coen pointed to the X-15 program, which was originally tied to supersonic research “but eventually touched the early space program and hypersonic speeds.”
P Model of the Super Sonic Transport (SST) variable sweep version (with wings in the low speed position) mounted prior to tests in the Full Scale Wind Tunnel.
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for supersonic and subsonic engines. So there were a lot of spinoffs that we see on subsonic aircraft today, but no supersonic aircraft product.” These low emissions combustor technologies helped to solve the high-altitude emissions challenge dealt with during the HSR program, said Jay E. Dryer, Director of the Fundamental Aeronautics Program Office in the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). “Among the challenges that faced supersonic aircraft were the high-altitude emissions and NOx [nitrogen oxide] issues. Designing low-NOx combustors is very important for these kinds of aircraft. The combustor work that was done in the Environmentally Responsible Aviation [ERA] project benefitted from concepts started in our supersonic project. There really is a link between these areas. And because ERA has been able to advance that technology, that will in turn benefit potential future supersonic turbine engines that might be developed for a commercial market.” The time for that commercial supersonic aircraft market may be coming. The Case for Commercial Supersonic Aircraft
Across the globe, there is an ongoing pattern of urbanization. Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, and that figure is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050, according to a United Nations report. More than 90 percent of this demographic movement is occurring in Asia and Africa. These future centers of population and trade are in many cases separated by great distances. “So connecting these city pairs becomes even more important, especially with the growth that we see in the East and in Asia,” said Dryer. “There are large distances to travel to connect some of these points and the people that want to be connected. “Speed makes a big difference in the equation. Even moving across the United States, if you were able to do that in half the time, that might change the way you look at a workday, or how you would attend a meeting. It might change the way that we even think of work in some cases. So this really presents a potential growth area for a new market to expand where aviation can have an impact.” But overland supersonic flight is currently banned in the United States and Europe, and because of that, the Concorde, 14 of which operated for decades, was limited to flying for the most part over water. If supersonic flights are to be allowed over the United States, the sonic booms generated by supersonic aircraft will have to at least be mitigated.
O Northrop Grumman Corporation’s modified U.S. Navy F-5E Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration (SSBD) aircraft flies over Lake Isabella, California, on Aug. 4, 2003.
NASA Photo / Jim Ross
However, in terms of supersonic commercial transport, it was the HSCT study contract that really focused on defining configurations and technology needs for future supersonic commercial transportation. “That HSCT effort led to the High Speed Research program in 1990, with the first phase of that program focused on overcoming the three main environmental challenges for supersonic aircraft: sonic boom; high-altitude emissions; and takeoff and landing noise,” Coen said. He described the activities as “a NASA funded/ industry contracted effort that involved all of the major players in the airframe and propulsion area,” with the program eventually “deciding that they couldn’t make a viable ‘low boom’ airplane at the size they were talking about, which was a Mach 2.4/300 passenger/5,000nautical-mile-range aircraft.” Although not able to develop a low boom transport, Coen emphasized that the program, which had a total investment of approximately $1.5 billion, continued to study supersonic designs and did come up with solutions for the noise and emissions challenges that could be applied to an airplane designed for supersonic “overwater” operations. “It also addressed a lot of propulsion materials and performance technologies,” he added. “And it’s important to realize that all of these efforts had valuable spinoffs as well.” Although shifting markets caused industry to move away from any commitment to bring a large supersonic aircraft to market in the time frame targeted by HSR, Coen noted the program still “left a legacy of improved computational fluid dynamics tools, improved composite materials, design techniques, ceramic materials for propulsion components, and low emissions combustors
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“I would say that ‘low boom’ research is the primary emphasis of what we’re working on, because it’s the key to unlocking that more flexible use of these kinds of aircraft,” said Dryer. “Why we think that low boom is such a key aspect is that it offers that flexibility to fly multiple routes connecting those city pairs. Granted, many of those flight routes of course would be over the water. But without the corresponding overland segments, the aircraft will not be viable for typical airline operations. Therefore, low sonic boom is such a key element to enable economical commercial supersonic flight.”
nasa photo by Carla thomas
Lowering the Boom
The relatively abrupt end of HSR (the program concluded at the end of FY 1998) meant another hiatus in large-scale supersonic research. However, within a year or two of that program end, significant interest began to materialize in smaller supersonic aircraft designs, with an associated emphasis on low boom research. “DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] got interested in the potential for a small supersonic military aircraft,” Coen said. “And some other players – including Gulfstream, Lockheed and their partner at the time, Supersonic Aerospace International – got interested in low boom supersonic
M NASA F-15B #836 in flight with Quiet Spike attached. The project investigated the structural integrity of the multi-segmented, articulating spike attachment designed to reduce and control a sonic boom.
business aircraft. And with NASA being kind of the repository of all of this supersonic technical data, everybody started looking to NASA to provide information. So, in about the 2001 time frame, we began to get back into supersonics.” “The next most significant activity was what became known as the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration [SSBD],” Coen said, reiterating that “sonic boom reduction technology and understanding the details and perception of sonic booms had been a part of the SST program, part of SCAR, and part of HSR. There had been a lot of analysis, theory, and wind tunnel experiments, but nobody had ever really done a flight experiment related to sonic boom reduction.” DARPA’s activity, the Quiet Supersonic Platform (QSP) program, prompted the idea of trying to demonstrate that all of the theories related to “‘shaping’ a sonic boom waveform to reduce its annoyance actually worked in flight. So eventually Northrop Grumman was selected as the lead contractor in a team effort to modify the nose of an F-5 fighter to incorporate ‘low boom shaping.’” The SSBD was successfully flown in the Edwards Air Force Base Supersonic Test Range in 2003. Coen said that at about the same time, “Gulfstream Aircraft was very active in the supersonic business jet
area,” with their concepts, resulting in a proposal for a boom reduction technology called “Quiet Spike,” which he described as “a telescoping nose extension which breaks up the shock wave into weaker components” The Quiet Spike nose extension was subsequently tested in partnership with NASA on the nose of NASA’s F-15 at Edwards Air Force Base. Coupled with what Coen termed “the reformulation of NASA Aeronautics” in the 2005/2006 time frame, the flight test results and other related research fed into a new supersonic project that “wasn’t as large an investment as some of the previous programs but had a focus on continuing to explore technology advances that could bring about more efficient, quieter supersonic flight.” Coen, who became the Project Manager for the resulting Commercial Supersonic Technology Project, identified one of the key breakthroughs as “trying not to make a very large supersonic aircraft, but rather something smaller; recognizing that something about the size of the Concorde probably could be commercially successful,
M Like being in the center of a giant orange spider web, a Farfield Investigation of No Boom Threshold (FaINT) project researcher connects microphone wiring for a spiral array designed to collect sonic boom data for the project.
but also environmentally compatible, with low emissions, low noise, and high efficiency. So that’s been part of our primary focus for the past half dozen years.” “If you actually look over the history of these activities, it’s very interesting to note the steady progress that has been made in the face of the continuing challenges,” he said. “In fact, we now feel that we have got the technology that would allow us to have an efficient supersonic airliner that could fly over land without creating a disturbing sonic boom – flying Mach 1.6 to Mach 1.8 with up to 200 passengers. We’ve wind tunnel tested configurations that meet those performance levels. “That would reflect the limits of the technology at this point in time,” he added. “But who knows? Based on history we will eventually be able to apply those technologies in finding solutions for larger aircraft.” “Has technology advanced to the point that construction and operation of a commercial supersonic aircraft is economically feasible? Absolutely,” said Dryer. “Highly efficient engines and composite materials that allow us more flexibility in construction of the airframe have made this possible.” One area of recent flight research at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center relied on the geographic advantage of flights permitted at supersonic speeds to “assess the public’s response to sonic booms in a real-world setting.” Parallel work conducted at Langley had “volunteers from the local community rate sonic booms according to how disruptive they determined the sound to be.” The aim is to find out what level of sonic boom might be tolerated by those living beneath the flight paths of supersonic aircraft. Looking toward the next few years, Coen said that the strategic thrusts for NASA Aeronautics “include one specifically for commercial supersonic technology development, with the initial goal of doing a flight demonstration
boeing nasa image
M A Boeing concept for a low-boom, small commercial supersonic aircraft.
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commercial supersonic aircr af t
of these low boom technologies.” Specifically, the ARMD strategic vision describes developing “solutions to make commercial supersonic flight over land possible ...” “What we are going to do is create the analytical tools, some of the key technologies, and help understand the overall concepts, like how we measure sonic booms, and give industry the key missing links, if you will, that are needed to allow them to build and innovate,” said Dryer. “We’ve created design tools and capabilities that allow a designer to understand and help predict the signature, and then carry that back to understand from that signature how the designer can shape or build the aircraft. In the past, it may have taken industry months to just turn one design cycle. And we’ve turned that into a matter of days or less because of the computational advances that we’ve made in this area. So that’s been one area of tremendous success.” When the aerospace industry builds that first commercial supersonic aircraft, it will probably start small. “Likely the first initial products will be small, business jet-class aircraft, because the physics of the problem is easier,” said Dryer. “But it’s important to note NASA is not just fixated on creating and opening a business jet market. Most of these studies that we’ve done focused on a small airliner, analogous to a regional jet in terms of passenger capability. When we’re doing our wind tunnel model testing that has shown why we believe that these low boom signatures are possible, those are the kinds of configurations that we’re using. So while we think that the business jets are the initial step, our vision is really on opening that market up to more of the flying public.” Coen sees the anticipated demonstration of low boom flight technologies as a first step, adding his hope
M Artist’s concept of a future supersonic cruise vehicle designed to have low-level sonic booms. Note the Quiet Spike-style nose.
that the low boom demonstration airplane would subsequently be used “to create enough data that the FAA and the international community would be able to change the current rule that prohibits supersonic flight over land. Hopefully they would change the rule to make it effectively a ‘noise-based certification standard’ for supersonic overland flight. That’s where we’d like to go in the next five years.” Even further into the future, he pointed to “similar progress on takeoff and landing noise solutions for supersonic aircraft.” While acknowledging that “they are not as quiet as the quietest subsonic aircraft,” he believes that NASA could help design a supersonic airplane “that would be quieter than the lower limits of current noise regulations and actually be lower than the proposed future noise regulations, which are even more stringent.” Coen went on to identify combustion technologies as “another synergistic development between subsonic and supersonic aircraft,” expressing an organizational belief “that we could design the engine for a supersonic airplane so that there would be no negative impact on the ozone or global atmosphere.” “But we need to continue that work,” he said. “So beyond doing the boom reduction demonstration, there are still challenges to be met related to the design of small, supersonic transport types of aircraft, with a longer term goal – 2030 and beyond – to continue to look for solutions that will enable us to scale up those aircraft to a larger size to improve the economics and make supersonic flight more accessible to a larger portion of the population.” l
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Ultra-efficient Commercial Vehicles very year, more airline passengers take to the skies, at home and abroad: In 2013, 826 million passengers flew domestically on U.S. carriers, up 1.3 percent from 2012, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts these numbers will continue to climb over the next few years, to more than 1.3 billion U.S. passengers annually. About 70 percent of these passengers are concentrated at the nation’s 30 busiest airports. By 2016, NASA projects that 3.6 billion passengers will fly annually worldwide. Such growth will require more planes, more flights, and expanded airport facilities – which in turn could mean more aviation fuel burned, more harmful jet
emissions, more air traffic congestion, and more noise near airports. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), working in close cooperation with government, industry, and university partners, aims to eliminate as much of this potential harm as possible. Many of the earliest studies launched a century ago by its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), were aimed at making powered flight more economically feasible; since the middle of the 20th century, NASA has continued that tradition with a diverse portfolio of projects, many of which target greener aviation. This research touches on all
U.S. Coast Guard photo
By Craig Collins
u lt r a - e f f i c i e n t v e h i c l e s
O The "Double Bubble" D8 series future aircraft design concept comes from the research team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Based on a modified tube and wing design with a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift, its low sweep wing reduces drag and weight. The embedded engines sit aft of the wings. The D8 was among the designs presented in April 2010 to the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate for its NASA Research Announcementfunded studies into advanced aircraft that could enter service in the 2030-2035 time frame.
aspects of aviation, including greater efficiencies in air traffic management and alternative lower-carbon fuels for aviation, as well as aircraft-related improvements related to noise, fuel use, and emissions. There is much room for improvement: In 2012, U.S. commercial air carriers burned 10.6 billion gallons of jet fuel at a cost of $31.6 billion – numbers that marked considerable progress over the 19.7 billion gallons burned, and $59.1 billion spent, in 2008. This rate of consumption releases more than 250 million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere annually, along with significant amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter. Aircraft noise, particularly near large metropolitan airports, continues to be one of the most significant obstacles to expanding the capacity of the National Airspace System. ARMD’s green aviation work has matured into lines of research aimed at achieving increasingly ambitious goals over different time frames – identifying promising technologies and maturing them to the point where commercial partners can begin integrating them into the designs of future aircraft. “We’re covering a broad spectrum,” said Jay Dryer, director of NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program, “everything from the very foundational tools up to new configurations that aren’t even flying yet.” The Foundation: Transformational Tools and Technologies Among the first steps in designing an ultra-efficient aircraft is to develop computational tools that will accurately predict its performance in the real world – its structural loading, its engine performance, and the noise it generates, for example. NASA and its predecessor, the NACA, have been invaluable partners in developing these tools, particularly in the numerical methods and algorithms used to analyze how an airframe and its components interact with air as they move through it – a field of study broadly classified as computational fluid dynamics, or CFD. CFD is used in the conceptual phase; designs are confirmed in wind tunnel tests and later validated in flight tests. A manufacturer’s willingness to invest in these more advanced evaluations is a signal of confidence in the tools used in the design. Today’s CFD codes have served aeronautics researchers and industry partners well for decades – but the rapid pace of technological change, in both computing and aviation, requires new, more powerful CFD tools
for the development of future aircraft. To push U.S. CFD capabilities to the leading edge of this new era, NASA commissioned the CFD Vision 2030 Study, conducted by a team of industry and university researchers who published their report in March 2014. “CFD Vision 2030 Study: A Path to Revolutionary Computational Aerosciences,” lays out a vision for a NASA-led collaboration in creating new simulation technologies, increasing the availability of high-performance computing for CFD development, and bringing world-class engineers and scientists to the field. NASA and its partners in industry and academia are in the early stages of forming this research collaboration, aimed at laying the foundation for future generations of cutting-edge aeronautics research. Fundamental tools for improving the efficiency of air transport, developed by ARMD’s Transformational Tools and Technologies Project, are not limited to computational software; NASA researchers also study the performance of advanced materials used in the design and construction of engines and airframes. An area of particular interest to NASA is the development of high-performing ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), which can withstand temperatures hundreds of degrees Celsius hotter than the metal alloys traditionally used in turbofan engines. The temperature at which a fuel/air mixture burns in a combustor is a key factor in fuel efficiency, said Jim Heidmann, who manages NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technologies Project. “Basically the hotter the combustion,” he said, “the more efficiently the engine is operating.” The glaring weakness of ceramics is that they are brittle – but CMCs, infused with fibers that provide greater ductility, show promise not only for use as combustor liners to reduce air cooling requirements, but also as working parts of the engine, such as turbofan blades. These new materials could dramatically increase the efficiency of jet engines by enabling combustion temperatures up to 30 percent higher. Noise Reduction Of all the factors constraining the growth of the aviation industry’s capacity, noise is among the most difficult to model and evaluate. While the FAA, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), issues clear noise standards for airport vicinities and different types of aircraft, multiple variables determine the frequency, intensity, and duration of aircraft noise, including not only distance but also vertical variations in humidity, temperature, pressure, and wind conditions.
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NASA researchers attack the problem of aircraft noise both at its source – the engine and airframe of aircraft – and in the communities surrounding airports. The Glenn Research Center’s Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory, a world-class facility, provides, under an insulated 65-foothigh dome, three state-of-the-art acoustic test rigs for evaluating the noise generated by engine components. Aeroacoustic investigators at NASA have also created technological tools that use computer models, flight measurements, and wind tunnel data to predict and simulate the flyover sounds of aircraft – a process known as auralization – while they’re still in the conceptual phase. One of the most widely used NASA-developed software tools, the Aircraft Noise Prediction Program (ANOPP), is used by both the FAA and industry to better understand the potential benefits of low-noise aircraft design concepts. More Efficient Vertical Lift The need for more sophisticated modeling tools, such as CFD codes, becomes apparent when you consider the complex pattern of turbulence, or field flow, created by a helicopter. Though a small sector of the aviation industry, rotary-wing aircraft fill key roles, such as emergency medical services, search and rescue,
M Three proposed aircraft designs achieved varying levels of success in meeting tough NASA goals for reducing fuel use, emissions, and noise, all at the same time.
and transportation to difficultto-access locations such as offshore oil platforms. Susan Gorton, who manages NASA’s Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) Project, pointed out that the agency’s work in rotary-wing technology dates to 1920, when the NACA published Technical Note No. 4, “The Problem of the Helicopter.” Despite the suitability of rotary-wing flight for certain applications today, said Gorton, several technical barriers continue to hinder the widespread use of helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. “Their cost per seat mile is pretty high,” she said, “and they don’t go all that far. So you’ve got to extend the range, make them bigger and make them more fuel-efficient, to really make them affordable to operators.” Vertical-lift aircraft are also loud, she noted, a key factor preventing their acceptance among communities. The RVLT Project focuses on overcoming these and other barriers to enable the production of aircraft that may someday operate scheduled air service. A quiet, efficient, safe, and affordable rotary-wing craft, capable of taking off vertically and transporting 50 passengers over a distance of 300 miles, said Gorton,
M A computer rendering of Amelia (Advanced Model for Extreme Lift and Improved Aeroacoustics), which investigated future technologies for the aircraft industry.
New Generations of Fixed-Wing Aircraft The potential for deriving further efficiencies from the traditional tube-and-wing design of a fixed-wing aircraft is rapidly diminishing; aeronautical engineers have, for the most part, wrung about as much as they can from this configuration. In October 2008, in recognition of this circumstance, NASA established a set of efficiency, noise, and emissions goals targeting each of the next
three generations of fixed-wing aircraft – and then put out a call to the industrial and academic communities to help determine how these goals might be met. “We said: ‘This is the kind of level of performance that we think will be expected. What is the best way to get there?’” said Dryer. “In essence, we were asking the external community to make their best guess about the type of aircraft they thought would be operating in the future. And then from there, [we asked them to] help distill where they thought the technology ‘long poles’ were that would help us get these new types of capabilities.” What emerged from these studies were several different configurations and technologies for further research – the majority of them propulsion and airframe technologies. As these areas of focus became more distinct, NASA’s research partnerships branched into two projects: one aimed at goals considered achievable by the mid-2020s (two generations beyond the existing generation of aircraft, or N+2); and another aimed at more ambitious goals for aircraft entering service around 2030 and 2035 (N+3).
offers several distinct advantages over a small regional jet taking off from a runway. “We’re really looking at technologies … to enable these kinds of vehicles to operate efficiently, quietly, and safely,” she said, “and to expand their current capabilities and develop new kinds of commercial markets.” According to Gorton, advances in CFD codes will prove crucial to developing these future generations of vertical-lift aircraft. High-fidelity data will help to model the complex airflows, noise, and vibrations generated by spinning rotors. “We have a fairly large investment in computational fluid dynamics for those kinds of things,” she said. “And it particularly impacts the acoustics.” Understanding the aerodynamics of rotor blades and how they generate noise will be an important precursor to developing new configurations. “It’s very important for us to be able to get that right,” said Gorton.
P The Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) Project aims to overcome shortcomings in existing vertical lift technology today, perhaps leading to a future tilt-rotor regional airliner.
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N+2: The Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project In 2009, the six-year ERA Project was launched to create a faster track for the most mature and promising technologies being evaluated throughout ARMD’s green aviation research. The project involves partners from private industry and academia and is coordinated with system-level research in airframe and propulsion technologies performed by other ARMD programs, as well as other federal agencies. Phase 1 of the project, conducted from 2010 to 2012, consisted of a series of smaller-scale experiments and studies of more than 20 different technologies. NASA funded studies of experimental aircraft configurations submitted by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. At the conclusion of this first phase, project leaders analyzed the results to determine which technologies might be moved from the laboratory to larger-scale flight and ground tests, and beginning in 2013, NASA and its partners embarked on a series of demonstrations
of the technologies that offered the greatest potential technical benefit to aircraft manufacturers. “In Phase 2,” said Fay Collier, ERA project manager, “we whittled down to eight what we thought had the best chance of application in the near term – the next five, six, seven years. If we can mature the technology readiness on these eight, then we think there’s a pretty good chance we might see them on airplanes in the 2020-plus time frame.” The demonstrations, launched in 2013, have focused on five areas: • reduction of aircraft drag through innovative flow control concepts • weight reduction through the use of advanced composite materials • fuel and noise reduction with advanced engines • emissions reductions from improved engine combustors and fuel consumption • noise reduction through innovative airframe designs and engine integration Like previous ERA activities, the demonstrations are carried out in partnership with federal and
Michigan Aerospace Distinguished Alumni and NASA Contributors Karen Albrecht BSAE 1972 Theodore Freeman MS 1960 Lauri N. Hansen BSE 1985 Karl Henize PhD 1954 James B. Irwin MS 1957, HSCD 1971 Clarence “Kelly” Johnson 1932 BSE, 1933 MSE, 1964 PhD (Hon)
Jack R. Lousma 1959, HSCD 1973 James A. McDivitt 1959, HSCD 1965 David R. Scott PhD (Hon.) 1971 Joseph Francis Shea BS 1946, MS 1950, PhD 1955 Floyd L. Thompson BSE 1926 Edward H. White MS 1959, HSCD 1971 Alfred Worden MSE 1963, HSCD 1971
Richard Nixon and Kelly Johnson examining an F-104 Starfighter model in the 1960s
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NASA/The Boeing Company
O The Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR, Volt future aircraft design comes from the research team led by The Boeing Company. The Volt is a twin-engine concept with a hybrid propulsion system that combines gas turbine and battery technology, a tube-shaped body, and a trussbraced wing mounted to the top of the aircraft.
private-industry collaborators. In November 2013, for example, investigators from NASA and the Boeing Co. completed wind tunnel testing of a full-scale Boeing 757 vertical tail model equipped with active flow control technology: dozens of small sweeping jet actuators that blow air across the span of the tail section. By improving what aeronautical engineers call boundary layer control, or BLC, NASA engineers aim to enhance the performance and utility of the tail section – an airframe component that adds stability to an aircraft in flight but is also notorious for creating drag. On commercial aircraft, with active flow control it may be possible to reduce the size of the tail and reduce both drag and weight. “We confirmed the flow rate,” Collier said, “and we confirmed the effectiveness of the actuators on the vertical tail. That gave us the confidence to launch a flight test aboard Boeing’s 757 ecoDemonstrator, which will occur next April or May .”
The ERA project, conducted under the leadership of ARMD’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program, is scheduled to end in 2015. As it winds down and the results of the demonstrations are published, Collier said, the next steps belong to the aircraft industry, which will decide how to integrate these technologies into future designs. “Tech transfer has been a big part of the overall project goals,” said Ed Waggoner, who manages the Integrated Aviation Systems Program for ARMD. “In every one of these Phase 2 endeavors, we’ve been intimately involved with an industry partner that is interested in that technology. That’s a key part of this.” N+3: The Advanced Air Transport Technologies Project NASA researchers in the Advanced Air Transportation Technologies Project are testing propulsion and airframe technologies aimed at more ambitious “stretch”
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goals in the 2030-2035 time frame: a 60 percent reduction in fuel/energy consumption relative to the “bestin-class” aircraft from 2005; an 80 percent reduction in NOx emissions; and a cumulative 52-decibel noise reduction below the current FAA stage 4 noise standard. One of the most effective ways to improve the efficiency of a turbofan engine, said project manager Ruben Del Rosario, is to increase its bypass ratio – the amount of air driven past the engine combustion core, relative to the amount driven through it. The traditional method of increasing a bypass ratio has been to expand the radius of the turbofan – but this method, Del Rosario said, is nearing its limits. “The physics tell you that the higher the bypass ratio, the more efficient the propulsion system will be,” he said, “until the engine has gotten so large that the weight of the nacelle, and the drag generated from the nacelle, start eating the benefits that you get from a larger and larger bypass ratio.” NASA’s partnerships in exploring future turbofan technologies focus on highly efficient smaller engine cores. “The work we’ve been emphasizing,” said Del Rosario, “has been focused on shrinking components of the engine core: the compressor or turbine or combustor. We’re exploring how to get these very small core cycles that increase the bypass ratio without increasing the external diameter.” Commercial aircraft that depart from the tube-and-wing design will need such innovative propulsion systems if they are to outperform today’s aircraft by a large enough margin to be considered necessary. The integration of small-core turbofans into a subscale model of an air transport concept – the D8, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – was evaluated in the Langley Research Center’s 14-by-22 Subsonic Wind Tunnel in December 2014. The D8 concept features a flat-bottomed fuselage, 17.3 feet across, that contains two pressurized cabin cylinders – earning the plane the nickname “Double Bubble.” An upswept nose shifts the center of lift forward, easing the burden on the tail section, and the engines are mounted not under the wings but atop the fuselage’s downward-sloping rear end. In this position, the engine inlets are designed to capture the boundarylayer flow sweeping over the fuselage – a slower airflow into the engine intake than the “clean” flow that enters wing-mounted engines. A slightly slower cruise speed than contemporary airliners enables a longer wingspan with a lower sweep, which can decrease drag and boost efficiency. Engine noise is reduced by twin vertical tail sections on either side of the engine assembly. “Those wind tunnel tests were really focused on that boundary-layer ingestion aspect of the MIT configuration,” said Rich Wahls, a scientist with the Advanced Air Transportation Technologies Project, “to see if you could measure a benefit, if you could really expect to
reduce fuel burns.” Two different configurations were tested, one with boundary-layer ingestion, and the other with the engines mounted to the side of the fuselage in a more conventional, clean-flow position. The wind tunnel test revealed that MIT’s boundarylayer ingestion configuration required 7 to 8 percent less power to fly. “So that kind of proved,” said Wahls, “that for a commercial transport vehicle, you could get a fuel burn reduction here. There is still a lot more devil in the details.” Another concept, developed through Boeing’s Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (SUGAR) program, was evaluated in January 2014, when researchers mounted a 15-percent-scale “semi-span” model – a model cut in half longitudinally – in Langley’s Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT). The SUGAR concept features a long, narrow wing designed to reduce weight and drag. Longer wingspans are enabled by the use of a strut or truss, and Boeing’s optimized truss-braced wing has a span of more than 173 feet, compared to 113 feet for the Boeing 737. The longer trussed span introduces two complicating factors: Struts are notorious for producing drag in themselves, especially at their attachment points; and as a wing lengthens and narrows, it becomes more prone to flutter or oscillation, an effect known to engineers as aeroelasticity. Boeing engineers carefully designed a strong truss that they believe will minimize drag, but many questions remained about aeroelastics – and Langley’s TDT was designed specifically to understand and solve aeroelasticity issues. The knowledge gained through such evaluations is incremental: By focusing on isolated elements of a design, Wahls said, NASA and aircraft manufacturers are gathering the data they’ll need to validate designs for the aircraft of the future. Much about Boeing SUGAR’s truss-braced concept – including the exact nature of the drag experienced around the truss joints – remains to be investigated. “But we’re chipping away at it,” said Wahls, “and still seeing promise.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone if, 20 years from now, planes resembling Boeing’s SUGAR and MIT’s D8 are carrying passengers in the sky. But neither should it be surprising, pointed out Dryer, if the planes of the future look very different from these concepts. “Our work isn’t about enabling a very specific configuration,” he said. “It’s about understanding some of the underlying technologies that might help enable multiple configurations, and opening up the trade space that allows industry to work. These projects have really brought out a lot of creativity, both externally and internally. It’s really been a nice combination of NASA’s own research and our coordination and collaboration with the external community, of both industry and universities, to help get us there.” l
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Leading a Transition to Low-Carbon Propulsion ne of the most engaging images the sky presents is that of the straight white arcs of an airplaneâ€™s contrails, heralding the voyage of passengers to parts unknown. While contrails have long been viewed as signs of progress, they also represent a form of pollution, the accumulation in the atmosphere of emissions including particulate matter, also known as soot, from the exhaust of jet fuel. NASAâ€™s Terra satellite has captured
images of clusters of contrails lasting as long as 14 hours from transatlantic commercial aircraft. The cirrus clouds created when the hot, moist air released from an airplane freezes in the colder and drier air also has an undetermined impact on climate, because they reflect sunlight and trap infrared radiation absorbed by the atmosphere. In its effort to conduct research that addresses important global trends such as aviationâ€™s carbon footprint,
By edward goldstein
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O Puffy white exhaust contrails stream from the engines of NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory in this photo taken from an HU-25 Falcon flying about 300 feet behind. During the access program, the DC-8 flew with an alternative fuel/JP-8 jet fuel mix as well as pure JP-8 to test the differences in emissions.
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) is tackling the challenge of enabling the transition of the aviation industry to lower-life-cycle-carbon fuels and alternative propulsion systems that may in the long run reduce the environmental impact of contrails and lead to other efficiencies that benefit society. Pressure for Technology Improvement
The stakes are clear, as Dr. Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Aeronautics, indicated in testimony before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics in 2012: “The pressure for technological improvement is mounting. Despite impressive improvements to the overall fuel efficiency of the U.S. airline fleets, fuel has about doubled as a portion of their total costs to be the single largest direct operating cost today for airlines, as other operations costs have been reduced. Globally, airlines are demanding
more highly efficient aircraft to counter rapidly rising energy costs and uncertainty over new environmental regulations. Airlines also are seeking more efficient air traffic management operations to meet growing demand, make better use of their existing fleets, and reduce operating costs.” But that was back at a time when fuel prices were much higher, a skeptic may say. While the costs of jet fuel may not currently be on people’s minds, as NASA’s Barbara Esker, Deputy Director of NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program points out, thinking our current good fortune of low oil and fuel prices will last is not realistic. “In 1995, the price of jet fuel was about 10 percent of total airline costs, but was about 30 percent by 2011. And with that kind of growth, there’s a reason for the interest. And these energy costs are expected to continue to escalate even though we are currently enjoying lower oil prices. There’s a general feeling that this is a small perturbation against a much longer cost growth curve that’s expected.” Esker adds that “the other part of the story is the impact on the environment. All propulsion systems, be it your tractor engine, or your car engine, produce emissions as a result of the combustion process,” she said. “The question: How can you increase your efficiency so that you drive down the amount of fuel that is used and thereby drive down the amount of emissions contributed? Right now, air transportation amounts to only about 2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, but with the expected growth in air transportation, that percentage is expected to grow if it is not addressed. The global aviation community through IATA [International Air Transport Association] has the goal of reducing world transport aircraft’s carbon footprint 50 percent by 2050. We’re going to try to achieve this through much more efficient operations, not only in propulsion and engine systems, but also through efficiencies in airframes. We’re going to need to look for new fuels and possibly for new propulsion concepts. In general, we need to broaden our leapfrogging capabilities.”
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NASA Langley/David C. Bowman
Testing Alternative Fuels
To address the issues of aviation efficiency and environmental impact, NASA’s ARMD, with flight tests, studies, and laboratory work ongoing at its Armstrong, Glenn, and Langley Research Centers, is accelerating research on alternative jet fuels and hybrid-electric propulsion systems. Starting in 2009, in its effort to aid in the development of cleaner aircraft fuels, NASA has conducted ground tests and two series of flight test campaigns out of the Armstrong Flight Research Facility in California called ACCESS (Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions) using a DC-8 flying laboratory, whose four wing-mounted CFM56 jet engines ran on either a conventional JP-8 jet fuel or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and an alternative HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) fuel that comes from the camelina plant, a fairly hardy weed. In the first stage of the flight tests, which followed extensive ground-based testing of alternative fuels based on animal fats, the DC-8 was followed by NASA’s HU-25C Guardian (Dassault Falcon 20G business jet), which sampled its emissions. In the
M The NASA Langley HU-25C being outfitted with hardware and sensors for the Access program to study the effects that burning an alternate biofuel has on engine performance, emissions, and aircraft-generated contrails at altitude.
second stage, ACCESS II, Falcon 20-E5 and CT-133 airplanes operated by partners with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and National Research Council of Canada (NRC) were part of the data gathering process. The instrumented chase planes recorded 20 different parameters of the exhaust coming from the DC-8 at various distances, altitudes, and engine power settings. JAXA, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency, is also participating in the research effort by helping to analyze data from the flight campaigns. Dr. Rubén Del Rosario, Project Manager for NASA’s Advanced Air Transportation Technology Project, said the purpose of the testing “as we develop and understand the combustor concepts of future aircraft, is to test those combustor concepts with a series of alternative fuels all the way from the small laboratory to the higher technology readiness level and components testing.” He added, “When we do that, we make a comparison to
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Developing Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Systems
While NASA’s alternative fuels work is aimed at the near term, the agency is also focusing on aircraft designs three generations beyond the current commercial transport fleet, or N+3. Concepts being studied include hybrid-electric propulsion, with research on propulsion and power conducted at the Glenn Research Center, and on airframe efficiency at the Langley Research Center. “As part of studies we conducted in 2008, we challenged the aviation community and said by 2035 we want to reduce fuel burn by 60 percent, we want to cut the noise in half, we want to reduce the landing and take-off nitrogen oxides by 80 percent or more,” noted Del Rosario. “From those studies, two teams came up talking about the fact that we needed to move
M Engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, installed this 15-percent scale model based on a possible future aircraft design by The Boeing Company in its Transonic Dynamics Tunnel. The 13-foot model is "semi-span," meaning it looks like a plane cut in half. It is being used to assess the aeroelastic qualities of the unusual truss-braced wing configuration. (The "truss" is the diagonal piece attached to the belly of the fuselage and the underside of the wing.) Boeing designed the concept as part of the SUGAR (Subsonic UltraGreen Aircraft Research) program to help conceive of airplane technologies and designs needed 20 years from now to meet projected fuel efficiency and other "green" aviation requirements.
NASA Langley/Sandie Gibbs
understand the emission of regular jet fuels versus alternative fuels as they relate to particulate matter, smoke, NOx [nitrogen oxide] emissions, carbon, and so forth, so we can understand what is happening in the emissions of these fuels.” Thus far, said Del Rosario, the flight campaign test results have been promising. “We have demonstrated that we can reduce particulate matter by about 50 percent with no impact to performance. The engine is operating in the same way as if it were operating on jet fuels … and we even see a little bit of NOx benefits, more in the single digits. That is probably the result of the engine working a little bit cooler than with regular fuel.” Del Rosario added, “Alternative fuels provide an opportunity to reduce the formation of contrails and reduce particulate matter as we fly.” Going forward, NASA is committed to more testing of alternative jet fuels at the Glenn Research Center, but as of yet has not committed to another flight campaign. Related to the jet fuel work is laboratory work and computational work on how to use fuel more efficiently. “The tie-in to the ultra-efficient arena is marrying, if you will, the efficient airframe with the efficient propulsion system to greatly reduce fuel usage,” said Esker. “Can you utilize the alternative fuels in a way that’s much smarter if you can better predict how they would actually behave within your engine system? So this ties into the ability to computationally model all aspects of the combustion science. What’s going on in that combustion process? Can you predict it? Can you measure it? Can you, with that knowledge, use these alternative fuels much more intelligently? … We’re conducting detailed scientific measurements and using complementary computational models and predictions to better understand the effects the [fuel] spray and burning patterns have in terms of how the fuel burns overall and its resulting emissions.”
from the traditional cycle of jet engines to hybrid-electric propulsion concepts.” NASA then funded followon studies led by teams from Boeing, GE Aviation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Northrop Grumman. Esker describes the investment in hybrid-electric systems as one in which “you can completely leapfrog from where you are by looking at truly novel approaches. The question on the table is: Can you take a system that couples some of the best characteristics of an electricalmotor-based system with the best characteristics of a much more reduced in size turbine system and end up
with a capability that allows you to leverage their efficiencies where they make sense in the course of flight? It wouldn’t be completely unlike how a Prius automobile works. Of course there are a lot of challenges to be overcome.” Del Rosario describes the challenges thusly: “The tall poles of this area are that you need higher power density electric motors, higher power density electric materials, you need to better understand what happens when you distribute the propulsion [between an engine that uses fuel and batteries].” One NASA-funded study effort had a team – led by Boeing Research & Technology and also involving
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Boeing Commercial Airplanes, General Electric and Georgia Tech – examine various subsonic concepts, under the project rubric of SUGAR (Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research). One design version of a high span, strut-braced wing aircraft (referred to as SUGAR Volt), which adds an electric battery gas turbine hybrid propulsion system, was found to reduce fuel burn by greater than 70 percent and total energy use by 55 percent, when battery energy is included, as well as reduce life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions and NOx emissions. The downside of the concept is the need to significantly improve battery technology. Another concept NASA pursued was N3-X, a 300-passenger hybrid wing body aircraft with turboelectric distributed propulsion (TeDP). Del Rosario describes the TeDP system as “a jet engine that is generating power and you take that power and transfer it to electric methods to drive a series of distributed fans. When you have this series of distributed fans, you can now increase the bypass ratio faster than traditional in-line engines. You can have more fans so your relative bypass ratio is a lot larger; you can also put the fans in the area where the drag is the worst, so you can reenergize the boundary layer to reduce the drag at the same time to increase the thrust.”
M This NASA concept, called the “N3-X,” uses a number of superconducting electric motors to drive the distributed fans to lower fuel burn, emissions, and noise. The power to drive these electric fans is generated by two wing-tipmounted gas-turbine-driven superconducting electric generators. In this design, the wing blends seamlessly into the body of the aircraft, which makes it extremely aerodynamic and holds great promise for dramatic reductions in fuel consumption, noise, and emissions.
The work on hybrid-electric propulsion is in its initial stages, with Esker noting “these types of systems have to go to much larger scales and we need to start looking at how you control them in a real vehicle with those tests done at Armstrong. Across all the NASA centers, we have about 100 engineers working on the transition to the low-carbon area. It is and continues to be an amazing journey in terms of what this entire technology area can be and the potential that it has with the revolutionary nature of these aviation systems. … I think while the technology is going to have to grow over time, it’s going to be a lot easier to do a smaller system first and a larger system later. In its ultimate manifestation, I think you’re going to be looking at a fleet of highly efficient air vehicles that have little or no impact on the environment ideally.” l
system-wide safet y assur ance
s t r at e gic t h rus t
Real-time, System-wide Safety Assurance Atlanta, in June 2014, one of the last events at Aviation 2014, the annual forum hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), was conducted by the five NASA officials in charge of carrying out the new strategic vision of the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). In outlining the six new “strategic thrusts” for the directorate’s research, Robert
Pearce, Director for Strategy, Architecture and Analysis at ARMD, said the agency must be able to embrace future “big ideas” while adapting to the breakneck pace at which both the business practices and the technology of aviation are evolving. One of the NASA panelists was Dr. John Cavolowsky, program director for ARMD’s new Airspace Operations and Safety Program (AOSP) – which combines elements
By Craig Collins
system-wide safet y assur ance
O This image from The Future ATM (Air Traffic Management) Concepts Evaluation Tool (or FACET) depicts all the aircraft in flight over the United States at one particular time. As demand grows and complexity increases, easing pressures on pilots and controllers and increasing safety and efficiency grow in importance.
of two existing research programs, Airspace Systems and Aviation Safety. The reason for the integration of these two programs, Cavolowsky explained, was that it had already become impossible to consider the issues separately. “To suggest that Airspace Systems had not been addressing safety before is wrong,” he said. “We have been. But the opportunity to bring in some of the advanced capability that has been driven aggressively through the Aviation Safety Program over the years is providing far greater additional value and integration of our capabilities.” The rapidly developing technologies and capabilities being investigated by ARMD researchers to increase the capacity, efficiency, and autonomy of the air traffic management (ATM) system are also important tools in assuring overall safety. Likewise, the former structure of the Aviation Safety Program, which divided areas of research into those aimed at vehicles, the air transportation system, and environmental hazards, no longer reflects the complexity of technological development. The increasing integration of onboard sensors, software, and operational systems with ground- and satellite-based control systems has muddied such distinctions. The future of aviation is one in which aircraft and control systems – and pilots, when necessary – will function increasingly as one, not only reacting to, but eventually anticipating and avoiding, potential threats to safe aviation. Merging the program structures into the AOSP, said Cavolowsky, gives ARMD researchers the ability “to provide a strong integration and interrelationship of those elements and development of quality products going forward – not just for the operational element, but for the safety element of the overall system.” One of the six new research thrusts outlined by the ARMD in the summer of 2013 was “real-time, system-wide safety assurance.” The two modifiers in that phrase – “real-time” and “system-wide” – indicate the key challenges that lie at the heart of NASA’s research into assuring safety in the National Airspace System. “System-Wide” Assurance
One of the inefficiencies in today’s air traffic management system is that it’s managed by people at either end of individual flight paths, tasked with granting clearances for takeoff and landing; their focus, by definition, is on a conflict-free handover to someone else. An aircraft’s movement from sector to sector, over time, can create a mismatch between the capabilities
of a ground control system and the dynamics of flight data (i.e., unexpected conditions) encountered by an onboard flight management system – and this mismatch can create downstream problems such as delays and safety risks. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) vision for modernizing the National Airspace System, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), includes the concept of trajectory-based operations (TBO) – devising an optimal point-to-point trajectory for an aircraft based on data gathered from every appropriate source throughout the air traffic management system. The shift from clearance-based to trajectorybased operations will offer several distinct advantages: • Aircraft trajectories will be precisely executed through four dimensions (the three spatial dimensions and time); • Details of these trajectories will be shared by all concerned parties, end-to-end, using system-wide information management tools; • In the case that a trajectory must be altered, these information management tools will allow full knowledge of downstream effects – and therefore selection of the least troublesome alteration; and • The increased end-to-end certainty about trajectories will allow for more aircraft to be inserted into a given volume of airspace. The capabilities that will allow for true TBO, including real-time knowledge of planned trajectories and en-route conditions throughout the air traffic management (ATM) system, have not yet been integrated into the NextGen architecture – but NASA is working on it. “Real-Time” Modeling
Early research into aviation safety, by necessity, required a look back at the issues and factors that had contributed to accidents. “Early on in the safety research program,” said Dr. Jessica Nowinski, a NASA research psychologist who studies aviation system safety, “we were more focused on retrospective analysis of what we call the ‘tall poles’ – the most frequent causes of accidents and incidents. But because aeronautics will be focusing on new and developing technologies, we really need to address the safety issues in conjunction with the development of those new tools and concepts. Now we’re trying to be even more proactive and look at what safety issues might develop with the introduction of new operations – because the technology is developing so quickly, we really don’t want to wait and see what
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system-wide safet y assur ance
problems arise. We want to be able to address vulnerabilities before they become problems.” How do you address a problem before it’s a problem? Retrospective analysis requires learning from prior experience – and nobody wants a pilot or an automated system to have already experienced an accident. Much of NASA’s safety research, Nowinski explained, is focused on developing proactive tools through the mining of data from both the aircraft fleet and operations centers. Researchers can analyze this data and learn what to look for, in order to identify precursors to incidents. “These algorithms analyze and learn from data collected from thousands of operations,” said Nowinski. “They are able to identify unusual, sometimes unsafe, events and the precursors to those events. In many cases we have identified incidents that were not previously known to the operator.” Much of the safety program’s early work was developed to function at the aircraft level: NASA supported the development of a prototype for an onboard algorithm, for example, that identified a precursor that flagged the need for a future engine shutdown. “The algorithm identified some precursor that may not have been detected, just a little change in the
M Tower controllers test out new NASA surface automation tools in a simulation at NASA’s Future Flight Central air traffic control tower simulator.
operation of the engine, that then was associated with an engine shutdown some number of flights in the future,” said Nowinski. “If you can pick up the need for an engine shutdown several flights ahead, then obviously you’ve headed off a potential safety incident. What we’re hoping to do is use the same technologies to understand airspace data – looking forward and predicting where there will be problems, based on small perturbations in the system as it is operating.” NASA researchers have helped to develop several decision-support tools that make use of data available from ongoing operations. The Dynamic Weather Routes (DWR) tool developed at the Ames Research Center, for example, continuously and automatically analyzes in-flight aircraft and changing weather conditions to find time- and fuel-saving corrections to weather avoidance routes. Version 2.0 of the DWR software was installed on an American Airlines trial system in Fort Worth, Texas, on July 1, 2013, after data analysis revealed that DWR had saved 46 American Airlines flights a total of 360 flying minutes in the previous month.
The SMART-NAS Project: Toward Proactive Safety Assurance
It’s one thing to verify and validate the effectiveness of a single decision-support tool – one concept at a time, with one airline and one FAA facility. It’s another matter altogether to demonstrate the feasibility and
operational benefits of an integrated system across the U.S. National Airspace System (the NAS). To meet the need for more potent research of these systems operating together, the ARMD last year launched a new project: the Shadow Mode Assessment Using Realistic Technologies for the National Airspace System
system-wide safet y assur ance
system-wide safet y assur ance
O The Airspace Operations Lab at NASA Ames conducts simulation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). NASA Ames Research Center’s advanced airspace modeling and simulation tools have been used extensively to model the flow of air traffic across the United States and to evaluate new concepts in airspace design, traffic flow management, and optimization.
(SMART-NAS) for Safe Trajectory-Based Operations. Dr. Shon Grabbe, who manages the SMART-NAS project, said it’s designed to evaluate NextGen technologies and concepts that remain to be implemented: “We’ll have some work on trajectory-based operations, focusing on aircraft conflict detection and resolution,”
he said. The project’s initial TBO focus will be on procedures and methods that might be used to improve efficiencies in the New York City airspace. The other concepts to be evaluated include a system that determines how and where aircraft separation functions should be performed, and “networked ATM,” or the control functions that can benefit from networked and cloud-based architectures that allow real-time data sharing. The evaluation of these concepts, Grabbe explained, requires discrete tools – including the real-time safety modeling and systems assurance technologies being developed by NASA researchers. The inherent challenge will be to develop an algorithm that’s responsive to the dynamic conditions of flight. “A lot of those previous studies really focused on kind of a post-operational assessment,” he said. “So maybe a month after a potentially unsafe event occurred, you could collect all the radar tracking data, or data from the flight deck of the aircraft itself, and then you could run that data through these advanced data-mining tools and capabilities, and they would identify these potentially unsafe situations – aircraft coming too close to one another, or maybe an aircraft not following a published procedure. There are many things that could make for an unsafe situation. But those analyses are typically post-operational. They happen after an event has already occurred.” One of the primary obstacles to evaluating a tool that aims to resolve a problem before it happens, of course, is access to real-time data that would enable it to function as designed. A key enabler of the SMARTNAS project is the SMART-NAS Test Bed development – with an open-architecture, networked system that will function in “shadow mode” as a simulator of the entire NAS, with live real-world data feeds from airlines, airports, FAA facilities, and other elements of
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Nucsafe’s Scatter X-ray Imaging (SXI) is an X-ray backscatter imaging technique that utilizes Radiography by Selective Detection (RSD). The focus of RSD has been one-sided detection for applications where conventional nondestructive examination methods either will not work or give poor results. Nucsafe’s SXI has been successfully employed in the Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) of a wide variety of interrogation applications. This technique has been used successfully to detect buried landmines and flaws and defects in aluminum, plastics, honeycomb laminates, reinforced carbon composites, steel, and titanium. Lateral Migration Radiography (LMR) , an example of RSD, has been used to detect variations in composition, including corrosion, and to detect flaws as small as 50 microns.
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system-wide safet y assur ance
M The data-driven detection of safety issues incorporates analysis of heterogenous data from multiple sources.
the NAS. Four contracts were launched in December 2013 to provide NASA with architecture design alternatives along with cost and benefit assessments before moving to implementations. The virtual world created by the SMART-NAS test bed will allow new air traffic capabilities and technologies to be demonstrated together, gate-to-gate, in real time, in order to confirm that they’ll perform as expected. “With the test bed,” said Grabbe, “we’re going to have the ability to maybe test out a couple of those concepts in parallel, so we can start exploring those interactions between one another before they are operationally deployed. We’re really focusing on the real-time aspects as we’re shadowing and monitoring current operations. Can we get the live data feeds – the live weather, for example – into the test bed and into these real-time safety algorithms?”
As it was originally envisioned, Nowinski said, the SMART-NAS project was to focus primarily on how the introduction of a new technology – an integrated arrival/departure management tool, for example, or the assimilation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – might influence the system as a whole. But NASA investigators quickly realized the potential of such a network to mine real-time data and prevent safety incidents. “The monitoring system itself is not useful unless we can understand what it is we’re looking for – the precursors, not the incidents themselves,” she said. “The goal is eventually to be able to monitor the data as operations are occurring and to identify problems as they begin to develop, rather than just being able to identify a problem as it’s occurring. That’s already too late.” The SMART-NAS Test Bed architecture design is scheduled for completion in December 2015.
NASA University Research Centers (URCs) Drive Groundbreaking STEM Research and Education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities North Carolina Central University established the Center for Aerospace Devices Research and Education (CADRE) in 2009 through the URC program to strengthen multidisciplinary NASA – relevant research, and to prepare a diverse new generation of researchers to meet NASA’s future technical challenges. RESEARCH CADRE’s research component is focused on development of detectors relevant for NASA missions, and includes projects in the areas of nanotechnology, nuclear physics, astrophysics, robotics and intelligent systems, and remote sensing. CADRE support is directly responsible for more than 260 publications, and development of strong, sustainable programs featuring academic and industrial collaborations.
EDUCATION CADRE-sponsored tutoring programs and support for extensive student participation in closely mentored, productive research experiences had a striking impact on STEM education at NCCU. n Participating students (CADRE supported 81 MS and 140 BS degree recipients) had dramatically higher rates of graduation (> 95%) and progression to further graduate study (86% (MS), 76% (BS)) compared to the broader NCCU student population. n CADRE support helped expand and enhance STEM curricula at NCCU, and was critically important to the institution of the first PhD program at NCCU. n CADRE has also established outreach efforts to provide research experiences for community college and local high school students.
Notable research accomplishments include: n Development of a novel polarimeter for photons with energies between 100 and 1,000 MeV, medium- and high-energy regions where no measurements are now possible. This unique approach will also yield improved accuracy and resolution compared to current instruments. n CADRE is also developing a high-intensity high-brightness, medium- and low-energy positron beam that has a projected intensity on the order of 1010 e+/s, and a brightness 104 times higher than any other source. This source, based on a novel method of separating electrons and positrons, will be a unique facility for both astrophysics and materials science.
system-wide safet y assur ance
A Smarter NAS for the Future
The SMART-NAS project is aimed, ultimately, at easing pressures and assuring safety and efficiency in a system that must, out of necessity, become increasingly less dominated by human presence: “Humans are important to the system,” said Cavolowsky, “because they provide oversight and ability to detect anomalous situations, non-normal situations. And when the system is not complex – i.e., there aren’t a lot of aircraft in the air, or there aren’t a lot of weather problems, or other things that add stress and complexity to the system – they can solve problems very well. However, as demand grows and complexity increases, the ability for humans to deal with situations of much greater demand and higher density becomes more troublesome.” Some 87,000 flights occur daily in the NAS, and NASA estimates that future increases, accompanied
M DWR in use at American Airlines’ Integrated Operations Center.
by the operation of unmanned aircraft in low-altitude airspace, could as much as triple air traffic by 2025. Air traffic controller and airline pilot regularly rank among the nation’s most stressful jobs, and a threefold increase in their burdens could extend beyond the capabilities of even the most skilled and experienced professionals. The SMART-NAS project, in developing a simulation of networked airspace, offers a gateway to this future, integrating NextGen technologies into a coherent, self-monitoring, and self-adjusting system. It’s a step toward the “big idea” that NASA’s Airspace Operations and Safety Program is aimed at – Safe, Autonomous Systems Operations (SASO), a conceptualization that looks beyond NextGen to technologies and solutions that haven’t been developed yet, to ensure efficiency and safety in a sky filled to capacity. l
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s t r at e gic t h rus t
Assured Autonomy for Aviation Transformation hey’re nearly here: By the end of FY 2015 – Sept. 30, 2015 – Congress has mandated that U.S. airspace above 400 feet, currently reserved for piloted aircraft, must also be accessible to unmanned aircraft. The provision, included in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) 2012 budget authorization, applies to military, commercial, and privately owned aircraft. Unmanned aircraft or “drones,” of course, are already operating in American skies, in military airspace and on
patrols of the nation’s borders. NASA’s own Ikhana – an MQ-9 Reaper, acquired by the agency in 2006 – made a public appearance on Dec. 5, 2014, when it captured and sent out real-time video of the reentry and splashdown of the Orion spacecraft after its historic first spaceflight. By the end of the 2013 calendar year, the FAA had also granted waivers to more than 500 public agencies to use unmanned aircraft for purposes including law enforcement, firefighting, search and rescue, and
nasa image by Carla Thomas
By Craig Collins
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O NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center operates the agency’s MQ-9 Predator B, named Ikhana, as a science and aeronautics platform. A proof-of-concept sense-and-avoid system was recently demonstrated aboard Ikhana, necessary for the UAS in the NAS project.
surveillance of valuable strategic assets such as power lines and pipelines. In referring to these aircraft, aviation experts, including those at NASA, prefer the more precise term “unmanned aerial systems,” or UAS, to reflect the fact that an unmanned craft, to date, is more than just a drone flying unattended in the sky: Like all drones flying today, it’s tethered via communications link to a pilot and crew on the ground, and many unmanned aircraft require further scrutiny. In the waivers it grants to public agencies, the FAA stipulates: “Because UAS technology cannot currently comply with ‘see and avoid’ rules that apply to all aircraft, a visual observer or an accompanying ‘chase plane’ must maintain visual contact with the UAS and serve as its ‘eyes’ when operating outside airspace restricted from other users.” In a series of FAA-sponsored public meetings about the emergence of UAS in the national airspace, Americans have overwhelmingly supported the use of these systems for purposes such as crop-dusting, delivering goods, and humanitarian aid – but the meetings have also revealed widespread misconceptions about the technical and legal status of these systems. It’s unlikely, given the limiting factors now existing for unmanned flight, that a swarm of drones will have taken to the skies on October 1 of 2015. In order to introduce unmanned systems to the higher altitudes of U.S. airspace, the FAA needs a more complete understanding of how they will communicate with other aircraft, minimize risks to piloted aircraft and people on the ground, avoid violating the privacy of American citizens and organizations, and authenticate that they are flying their assigned missions. To make these assurances, the FAA is relying in part on the expertise residing in NASA’s four aeronautics research centers, which carry out the strategic vision articulated by its Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) in the summer of 2013: in part, to enable higher levels of automation and autonomy across the aviation system. The UAS in the NAS Project
The United States’ is the busiest airspace in the world: According to the FAA, more than 21.5 million commercial flights took place in 2013 alone. The nation’s current air traffic control system – which consists of ground-based radar, control towers, onboard transponders and navigation devices, and the software, networks, and radio communications that connect them and manage the movement of aircraft – has made
accidents and other serious incidents increasingly rare: Between 2010 and 2013, there were no fatalities among the 2.94 billion passengers who flew on scheduled commercial flights in the United States. Despite its sturdy effectiveness, however, the nation’s legacy air traffic control system is outdated, and it’s in the midst of an upgrade. Ground-based, line-of-sight radar signals degrade over long distances. They can’t penetrate obstructions such as mountain ranges, and update only once every four-and-a-half seconds, which requires aircraft to remain farther apart from each other in the air than would be necessary with the location technologies enabled by Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. The multibillion-dollar Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which uses newer satellite-based technologies, offers a window of opportunity to integrate UAS into American airspace. One NextGen technology, for example, is a satellitebased system called Automatic Dependent SurveillanceBroadcast, or ADS-B, which uses GPS to locate planes in three dimensions and establish a real-time connection to air traffic control. ADS-B “Out” – the capability for a vehicle to broadcast position information to ground stations and other aircraft – will be required on all aircraft flying in controlled airspace by 2020. Before unmanned aircraft can be integrated into the NextGen system, FAA needs to lay down some rules, but this task faces several obstacles. In a 2014 report commissioned by NASA, the National Research Council listed both the potential benefits and barriers – legal, social, regulatory, and technological – associated with introducing UAS in the national airspace. NASA is helping the FAA address technical barriers to integration with a project launched in 2011: the Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration in the National Airspace System (UAS in the NAS) project. “NASA’s focus is on those technical areas, and on passing on data that will help officials make appropriate policies and rules to govern this integration,” said Director of Integrated Systems Research Ed Waggoner, D.Sc. UAS in the NAS creates a test environment in which investigators seek solutions to the following technical challenges: • Sense and Avoid (SAA)/Detect and Avoid (DAA) Performance Standards: UAS integration requires assurance that an unmanned aircraft is able to perceive and avoid trouble in the sky. NASA research will aim to develop and validate the minimum operational standards for an aircraft’s ability to safely share airspace. • Command and Control (C2) Performance Standards: Currently operating UAS use a data communications
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link between the remote, ground-based pilot and the aircraft – a link known as the Control and NonPayload Communications (CNPC) waveform. This link will require its own dedicated and protected bandwidth spectrum, and NASA researchers are in the process of testing a prototype CNPC radio. • Integrated Test and Evaluation (IT&E): Simply put, this technical challenge involves creating an advanced simulated testing environment that will generate useful research findings related to the other project issues. In March of 2012, NASA’s Ikhana unmanned aircraft undertook the first flights of hardware for the UAS in the NAS project during several test runs at Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. The Ikhana was fitted with an ADS-B device – the first time the technology had been used with an unmanned system – and was able to provide detailed position, velocity, and altitude data about itself to air traffic controllers, pilots of other ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the vicinity, and to its own ground-based crew. The successful use of ADS-B aboard the Ikhana provided some assurance that an unmanned craft could communicate with others in its vicinity – but it was still, Waggoner pointed out, a one-way demonstration: “We’re looking at how to adapt ADS-B In – a function that will allow the aircraft to receive ADS-B signals
M FAA UAS testing sites in the United States, where research is being conducted on integrating UAS into the national airspace.
from others broadcasting in the vicinity, so you’ll know where other traffic is.” In the next two years, the project will evaluate the performance of an onboard radar system that could be used to detect other aircraft that may or may not also be using ADS-B – a key first step, Waggoner said, in developing detect-and-avoid capabilities for unmanned systems. It’s important to point out, as Waggoner does, that the current research design aims at a remote pilot’s ability to avoid trouble detected through an onboard sensor suite. The kind of artificial intelligence that will allow an unmanned aircraft to think for itself – to both sense danger and avoid it – isn’t here yet, at least not near a level that would offer any assurance to a regulatory agency such as the FAA, which continues to require a human pilot in the loop for all aircraft flights. “We have a focus project in the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace that is only touching on the periphery of autonomy,” Waggoner said, “because it is using highly automated systems and various levels of automation. That in itself is not really getting towards full autonomy – though it’s a necessary step that will have to be taken to achieve autonomy for unmanned aircraft.”
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P The Federal Aviation Administration gave approval for energy corporation BP and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturer AeroVironment to fly an AeroVironment Puma AE (“All Environment”) UAS for aerial surveys in Alaska – the first time the FAA authorized a commercial UAS operation over land. The FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to survey BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oilfield in the United States.
Class G or “uncontrolled,” a layer from the ground up to between either 700 or 1,200 feet, depending on the floor of the overlying Class E space. In Class G airspace, the air traffic control system has no authority or responsibility to prescribe routes and altitudes, though visual flight rules (VFR) apply: Pilots must be able to see and avoid other aircraft, and assume responsibility for maintaining separation. It is in this uncontrolled space where private operators and service providers are in the process of what Allen calls “the democratization of the skies,” awakening to a variety of applications, from commercial to personal use. For now, the most visible unmanned systems for personal use are those lining the shelves of local hobby and toy stores; while it’s not illegal to own these, it’s illegal to operate them in the national airspace. And the proliferation of these toys is only a sign of things to come: Both Google and Amazon are investigating the possibility of developing a fleet of self-flying UAS for the purposes of package delivery, and major automobile manufacturers as well as small startup companies are developing personal air vehicles or “flying cars.”
P Six U.S. aerial photo and production companies have FAA exemptions to use UAS in filming.
The distinction between automation and autonomy is essentially the difference between relegation – assigning discrete, easily performed tasks – and delegation – assigning a given set of mission parameters. Danette Allen, Ph.D., Chief Technologist for Autonomy and Head of the Autonomy Incubator at NASA’s Langley Research Center, explained that it’s the difference between machine-based execution and machine-based decision-making, and it’s a crucial difference, one that points to a yawning gap between the current capabilities of unmanned systems and the future many envision for unmanned flight. “Think about the movies you’ve seen,” said Allen. “For a mission, you send out multiple pilots, and they’re constantly talking to each other, constantly renegotiating what the mission is based on the health of the vehicles, the status of the pilots. Now think about doing that without people involved. That’s an example of what machine autonomy is.” It’s the difference, she explained, between pressing the button on your toaster and saying to an unmanned aircraft: “Here’s the goal. Go and execute it. I’m not going to tell you how.” The current effort to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System is aimed squarely at automated drones. The Wild, Wild West of unmanned flight – the exuberant realm where innovators see the greatest array of possibilities for unmanned aviation – is in the low-altitude airspace known to the FAA as
Impreza54 via wikimedia commons
The Low-Altitude Frontier
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“So we’re moving towards a future with less skilled operators in the air,” said Allen. “We’ll be moving away from trained and licensed pilots to, say, operators or drivers – or ‘flyvers,’ as I like to call them. It’s a big sky. But think about what happens when our highways are elevated into skyways, and you’ve got a lot of people trying to access the same space.” Some degree of automation, and eventually autonomy, will be required to accommodate this increased demand for access and for these less skilled operators to venture into the low-altitude frontier. For many of those hoping to operate aircraft in the low-altitude airspace, autonomy offers practical solutions to specific problems. If a company such as Amazon – which delivers millions of packages every day – were able to develop a fleet of unmanned craft that could execute same-day deliveries, it would bankrupt itself hiring remote pilots for each of them. If an unmanned craft on a search-and-rescue mission has to fly under a tree canopy, or through a tunnel, and cuts itself off from the GPS system, it will have to be able to continue its mission while keeping itself and all other people and property in the vicinity safe. In 2014, at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Allen assembled a multidisciplinary team to address the many issues and problems associated with autonomous flight. This team of civil servants, contractors, and student interns, out of a facility known as the Autonomy
M Several companies, such as Terrafugia, above, are developing “flying cars,” pointing toward a future with less-skilled operators flying aircraft.
Incubator, includes not only seasoned researchers, but also mechanical and electrical engineers, roboticists, computer scientists, and even psychologists to study human-machine interactions. “The idea is to pull together and co-locate a multidisciplinary team with the right set of skills to start solving those problems,” said Allen, “to enable missions we haven’t been able to execute before because we didn’t have the autonomy capabilities we needed.” In simplest terms, the purpose of the Autonomy Incubator is to bring human-like capabilities to aircraft and other machines in the form of safe and reliable integrated system solutions to the challenges identified by NASA research programs across mission directorates. Many of these capabilities are available in some form – cameras, for example, are often perfectly serviceable as “eyes” – and the Incubator team hopes to integrate them into increasingly autonomous systems that respond as humans would to the unexpected. “So you bring cameras onboard a vehicle,” said Allen. “You bring laser systems for distance measurements onboard. You bring processing onboard and use
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whatever processing power you have, whatever information is at your disposal. You design appropriate algorithms to plan your path, to detect and avoid objects – and even to classify objects. It’s important to know whether you can [go] through an object or must go around it. These are the pieces we’re working on. We need systems that can assess the environment and make decisions under uncertainty and when faced with situations they haven’t been programmed to respond to.” Safe, Autonomous Systems Operations
NASA investigators throughout the ARMD are looking at the issue of autonomy not only in terms of individual vehicles, but also in terms of the air traffic management system as a whole. This requires system-wide awareness: At the vehicle level, an autonomous craft must not only be aware of its external environment – it must also be aware of itself, said Bob Pearce, NASA’s Director for Strategy, Architecture and Analysis. “One example of that,” he said, “is that a lot of vehicles today have health management systems, the ability to actually understand the subsystems on an airplane and whether any of those systems are either degraded or in some sense have failed . . . if you know there is an issue, you could actually change the controls in order to maintain safety – and do that with a pilot’s level of proficiency.” Likewise, if autonomous vehicles are to operate in civilian low-altitude airspace, some kind of system-wide certification and monitoring capability will need to be implemented: Just as the self-driving automobiles being developed by private-sector innovators will still need laws, roads, and traffic signals, low-altitude autonomous aircraft will require a system to authorize access and assure safety in this new frontier. NASA took the first step toward developing this system – the UAS Traffic Management (UTM) System – in September 2014 when it issued a federal notice soliciting partners in the multi-year effort to build a series of UTM systems of increasing complexity. While it may seem like pure science fiction to many, the UTM construct will be a low-altitude adaptation of the autonomous concepts emerging at altitudes above 1,200 feet – separation management, scheduling, demand/capacity imbalance, trajectory definition, contingency management, weather data, and others. The UTM will allow operators to create a “geo-fenced” area, defined by GPS coordinates, in which movements and behaviors can be programmed and monitored. The goal of the UTM, a technology that will ultimately be handed over to the FAA, is to find a way to safely manage the simultaneous low-altitude use of unmanned aircraft by multiple users. Early versions will likely involve some degree of human oversight to approve flight plans and monitor flights, but the long-term vision is of a
self-monitoring system that knows what is in the low altitude airspace, and where – and how to keep all these aircraft moving safely and efficiently. These goals aren’t any different from the goals NASA and the FAA share for higher altitudes. “We’re trying to help the FAA reach its NextGen goals and have very efficient, integrated trajectories from gate to gate that can operate through very complex scenarios and airspace,” said Pearce. NASA investigators have developed several algorithmic tools that can help operators to predict and avoid delays and safety incidents, and last year the agency launched an ambitious project to evaluate how many of these new autonomous monitoring tools interact with each other in real time: the Shadow Mode Assessment Using Realistic Technologies for the National Airspace System (SMARTNAS) for Safe Trajectory-Based Operations. The SMARTNAS project will function as a simulator operating in “shadow mode” – using real-time data feeds from public and private partners in the aviation industry to examine how existing and developing tools operate together. The increasing autonomy of aircraft, and the resulting burdens it will add to the airspace, will in turn make it necessary for a future version of the SMART-NAS to come out of shadow mode and operate in the real world, said Pearce. “You can envision a future,” he said, “where you’ve got a lot of UAS, maybe autonomous personal air vehicles and other things, operating at the same time. They have very different performance characteristics,” he said. “They’re flying different missions. And now the airspace is a much more complex environment than it is today. You’re probably going to need some autonomy in order to get beyond some of the limitations in the ability of humans to handle complexity.” NASA’s vision for safe, autonomous systems operations anticipates the changes that increasing autonomy will bring not only to the operation of vehicles, but also to the very business models that drive aviation. A reliable, decision-capable artificial intelligence, for example, could allow operators to reduce manning requirements, even enabling single-pilot operations; if a sensor array indicates the pilot has become incapacitated, an autonomous system could step in to complete the flight. Assured autonomy will enable on-demand flights of either passengers or cargo, perhaps priced on a sliding scale, much as utility companies are now able to price electricity to match supply and demand. Such a future may seem remote – but safe, systemwide autonomy, like many of the aeronautical innovations that preceded it, will probably be regarded as implausible until the day it finally arrives. “We need a whole new set of tools,” said Pearce. But little by little, as they lay the groundwork for a smart, self-monitoring national airspace, NASA investigators are sharpening those tools. l
opposite page: U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul Seeber
NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and humankind’s next giant leap By craig collins
happened at 7:05 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2014, just as the morning sun began to whiten the sky above Cape Canaveral: A 234-foot-tall Delta IV heavy-lift rocket, carrying NASA’s new Orion spacecraft, blasted off from Launch Complex 37, trailing three orange plumes that glowed like sparklers. “Liftoff at dawn,” said Communications Specialist Mike Curie, via NASA’s live feed of the event. “The dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration.” Orion’s first mission took the uncrewed capsule farther than any spacecraft designed for humans had gone since the Apollo program ended more than 40 years ago: past low-Earth orbit (LEO), through the inner Van Allen radiation belt, to an orbital altitude of about 3,600 miles above Earth. Though it lasted only four-and-a-half hours, Orion’s first mission yielded valuable data about critical procedures and on-board systems, avionics, computers, separation events, and the capsule’s heat shield and parachutes. The spacecraft hit speeds of up to 20,000 mph; during re-entry, it endured temperatures approaching 4,000°F before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles southwest of San Diego. A mission known officially as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), Orion’s test flight was a critical step in achieving NASA’s ambitious vision for the nation’s space program. Orion was designed specifically to take up to six astronauts into deep space, much farther than any person has ever traveled: eventually, to become pioneers on the surface of Mars.
O An artist’s concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rolling to a launchpad at Kennedy Space Center.
P Navy divers attach tending lines to the Orion crew module after Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). The lines were used to help guide the capsule into the well deck of the USS Anchorage (LPD 23).
H E O M i s s i o n D i r e c to r at e
Establishing a lasting human presence on Mars might seem a far-fetched idea if NASA hadn’t already, 45 years ago, fulfilled the equally preposterous quest to put men on the Moon. As Project Apollo began to wind down in 1972, President Richard Nixon announced NASA’s new Space Shuttle Program, which he said would provide “routine access to space.” Routine manned spaceflight has been a remarkable accomplishment, enabling a sustained human presence aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the largest artificial body ever to orbit the Earth, for more than 14 years. But it’s also an achievement viewed with ambivalence among the far-sighted thinkers at NASA – an agency conceived to view the routine with profound restlessness.
Commercial Space Transportation The transition to commercial service of the ISS began in 2006, when NASA launched its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and invited private companies to submit competing designs for commercial cargo vehicles. These efforts bore fruit in May
N With rays of sunshine and the thin blue atmosphere of Earth serving as a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is berthed to the Earth-facing side of the International Space Station's Harmony node. Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the station to join Russian, European, and Japanese resupply craft that service the complex while restoring a U.S. capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory. A crew-rated variant, the Crew Dragon, is in development.
The end of the space shuttle era in 2011 left NASA with a critical choice for its Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate: It could continue to pour its expertise and resources into work it had already mastered – designing a new generation of transport vehicles to bring cargo and crew to the ISS and other destinations in LEO – or it could foster competition for these tasks among private-sector innovators, while freeing its own visionaries to turn their gaze farther outward, to Mars and beyond. Today, each of the HEO Directorate’s divisions is focused on these two mutually reinforcing goals: continuing to support operations in LEO and the ISS while using the station as a proving ground to answer questions about how people and machines might execute a long journey to Mars and back.
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2012, when the SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS, and in September 2013, when Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus followed with its own resupply mission. NASA considers the COTS program an unqualified success – an $800 million investment that yielded two new mediumclass launch vehicles and two automated cargo spacecraft. COTS, which ended with Orbital’s 2013 demonstration flight, has transitioned into the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, which now focuses on actual deliveries to the ISS: SpaceX deliveries, which launched the Dragon vehicle with the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, now depart from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, while Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus capsules are launched from the nation’s newest launch facility, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. The agency recently solicited bids for a new round of cargo deliveries, which will begin once the current contracts are fulfilled in 2016. A parallel initiative, the Commercial Crew program, was launched in 2010, the year before the space shuttle’s retirement. On Sept. 16, 2014, after several phases
M Imagery of Boeing’s CST-100 crew transportation system in Earth orbit. NASA’s goal is to begin crew transports with certified transportation systems by 2017.
of preliminary development and competing designs, NASA announced that two private companies – Boeing and SpaceX – had been awarded contracts to complete development and provide initial crewed launch services to the ISS. Both companies were assigned the same set of requirements: to develop and certify the crew vehicle and to fly up to six operational flights to the ISS after successfully completing the NASA certification process. According to Phil McAlister, Director of HEO’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division, the goal is to begin crew transports with certified transportation systems by 2017, with several test flights preceding. The SpaceX Crew Dragon will be launched with a Falcon 9, while Boeing’s CST-100, designed to be used with multiple launch vehicles, will initially be launched with an Atlas V 412 rocket. Like the cargo transport services, McAlister expects future crew transports to be open to competition after
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Boeing and SpaceX each complete their authorized crew transport missions – especially after the recent announcement that the United States would continue its support of the ISS through 2024: “It’s likely the ISS will still be in orbit after those 12 missions are done,” he said, “so we do expect a follow-on services contract, and we hope there will be competition in that as well.” The model used to develop these cargo and crew transports is remarkably different from the way hardware and capabilities were developed in the space program’s past: The three-person Apollo spacecraft, for example, was built largely by North American Aviation, but its design and development were controlled almost completely by engineers from NASA – who needed to integrate it with the Apollo Service Module, Saturn V launch vehicle, and Lunar Excursion Module to accomplish the Apollo program missions. By contrast, McAlister said, today’s cargo and crew transport systems are public-private partnerships to
N International Space Station Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore holds up the first object made in space with additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing. Wilmore installed the printer on Nov. 17, 2014, and helped crews on the ground with the first print on Nov. 25, 2014.
provide a service on a commercial basis to an existing outpost in space — the ISS. “Our responsibility is to establish our requirements and then to certify that those requirements have been met,” he said. While NASA has much insight – and, in fact, has personnel stationed on the factory floors at both Boeing and SpaceX to learn and evaluate whether the crew transports will meet NASA’s requirements – it leaves design decisions up to the private sector. “They make the decisions about how their systems are going to operate, what they’re going to look like, and what the hardware is going to be,” said McAlister. “We want them to be able to take these systems and sell them not only to NASA, but to other customers as well. They’re going to be the owner-operators of these systems.” Over the long term, said McAlister, the commercialization of space will create a new service economy – delivering cargo and crew not only to the ISS, but also to other LEO destinations – while freeing NASA and other space agencies to work together on the big questions facing crewed spaceflight: how far, how fast, and for how long crews can function in flights long enough to require crew members to look to somewhere other than Earth for resupply – “Earth-independent” space travel.
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“We want low-Earth orbit to be a profitable, robust enterprise with multiple service providers and multiple users,” McAlister said. “We’d like to be a part of making these operations less dominated by the government.” The Challenges of Human Spaceflight to Mars As it lays the groundwork for an economic expansion in LEO, NASA’s HEO Directorate is also taking the first steps in a longer journey – and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a PBS NewsHour broadcast that aired two days before Orion’s test flight, was unequivocal about the agency’s intentions: “I use the term pioneer instead of explore,” he said. “Exploring implies we’re going to go out and come back, like Lewis and Clark. We’re intending to pioneer Mars, which means we are going to put people on that planet to be there permanently.” Given their different orbital paths, Mars and Earth can be anywhere from 35 million to 140 million miles apart. Before human explorers can make the great leap from Earth reliance to Earth independence, many challenges remain to be confronted – and have become the focus of much of the work of experts within HEO divisions. For example:
M Imagery of the Orion spacecraft in Earth orbit. Plans are for a variant of the Orion spacecraft to eventually travel to Mars.
• The shortest likely duration of a first human mission to Mars – about a year and a half – is far longer than any American has ever been in space, and will expose human travelers to multiple physiological stressors including microgravity and intense ionizing radiation. HEO’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division is studying the many factors involved in human health during prolonged exposures to the rigors of space travel. In March 2015, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are scheduled to depart for the first yearlong mission aboard the ISS, a mission specifically designed for the study of how space changes the human body. Because Kelly’s identical twin brother, Mark, is also a former astronaut, the mission provides a unique opportunity to disentangle these effects from those caused by genetics. • When NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012, the signal confirming its touchdown took about 15 minutes to travel home to Earth via radio waves. If a call goes out from Mars using the
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current technology, it would still take between 15 minutes and a half-hour to reach Earth, but the signal could contain much more information. HEO’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Division is at work developing a higher-bandwidth optical communications network – which will allow much higher data rates to be sent to Earth from deep space. In comparison to current systems employing radio waves, an order of magnitude more data – whether images, video, or other scientific- or healthand safety-related measurements – could be transmitted over the same period of time. This increase in bandwidth would also allow multiple high-definition video signals that could be received on Earth from Mars or other planets being explored by robots or humans. The system is projected to be operational in the 2022 time frame. • The logistical challenges of taking people and millions of pounds of supplies and equipment to Mars, and of supporting a prolonged human presence in a place where emergency assistance is several months away, require technological solutions still being explored by scientists within both HEO’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division and NASA’s Space Technology Directorate. A demonstration prototype of the Deep Space Habitat, designed to enable sustainable living quarters, workspaces, and laboratories for next-generation human spaceflight missions, is now undergoing controlled evaluations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. And in December 2014, NASA e-mailed ISS Commander Barry Wilmore a digital file, which he uploaded into the Made in Space 3-D printer that had been installed on the space station a month earlier. Four hours later, Wilmore had a usable ratcheting socket wrench. To date, more than 20 objects have been printed in space – the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth. The workhorse designed to propel people and equipment into deep space is the Space Launch System (SLS), the world’s most powerful rocket, currently under development at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The first version of the SLS to enter service will be configured to have a lift capacity of 77 tons, and will carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond LEO – a mission known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM1) and currently projected to occur in 2018. A crewed Orion mission, projected for the mid 2020s, will send astronauts to lunar orbit, to study an asteroid placed there by a robotic mission that will launch earlier – the Asteroid Redirect Mission. NASA’s hope is that in the 2030s, a future version of the SLS, fitted with an Exploration Upper Stage, will propel a crewed Orion craft to Mars for humankind’s first visit to the red planet. But for NASA, which has endured several years of budget uncertainty, the
future of human spaceflight – the dates when the new SLS will fly, and what it will do, and how rapidly the agency’s deep space capabilities can be developed – is much murkier than the milestones laid out for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs a half-century ago. According to Bill Hill, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, the current climate has required a different approach. “If we have to live under a flat budget, it will just take longer,” he said. “But it forces us into looking at other ways of doing business, like joining with international partners and getting contributions from them, to achieve those other capabilities we know we’re going to need.” In a report issued in May 2014, titled “Pioneering Space: NASA’s Next Steps on the Path to Mars,” the agency outlined an approach to deep space exploration that embraces the unknowns in future technology, partnership, and economic conditions. “NASA,” according to the report, “is defining a long-term, flexible and sustainable deep space exploration architecture termed the ‘Evolvable Mars Campaign.’” This approach recognizes that we need to move from an “Earth-reliant” situation today, with crews able to return from the ISS in minutes to hours, to an “Earthindependent” capability, where Mars-class missions mean return times of months to years. The means to progress from one to the other is to exploit the proving ground of cis-lunar space (the lunar vicinity), starting with missions of SLS and Orion and building up capability and expertise to accomplish increasingly longer and more challenging missions. This approach is in accord with the second version of a vision document, the “Global Exploration Roadmap,” jointly issued by 12 national space agencies from around the world in August 2014. The international roadmap lays out a sequence of investigations to take place over the next few decades; beginning with general research and preparatory activities aboard the ISS or perhaps other LEO platforms, transitioning into robotic missions to discover and prepare, and finally to human missions beyond low-Earth orbit, beginning in the vicinity of the Moon and then moving into deep space and the Mars system. It’s a bold strategic vision – but to Hill and others at NASA, the effort to establish a sustained human presence on Mars is much more than a feel-good story about NASA’s can-do spirit: It’s about the long-term survival of our species. “We see exploration as critical to prosperity and human progress,” he said. “We’re going out into the solar system as pioneers, and we’re going out to stay. Our long-term effort will be to take the infrastructure needed to sustain human life on Mars – and to extend human presence into the solar system. This is what pioneering space is all about.” l
By edward goldstein
January, attendees at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society were among the first to see retro-style travel posters (now available for download on the Internet) inviting visitors to see the sights of “Kepler-186f, Where the Grass is Always Redder on the Other Side,” or “Relax on Kepler-16b, The Land of Two Suns Where Your Shadow Always Has Company,” or perhaps to “Experience the Gravity of HD 40307g – A Super Earth.” These fanciful renderings of alien planets by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory visual strategists Joby Harris
and David Delgado were based on recent discoveries by the agency’s Kepler Space Observatory, launched in 2009, of the first validated Earth-sized planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone (Kepler-186f ), and a planet that, like Tatooine in the movie Star Wars, orbits two stars (Kepler-16b) but would not be suitable for Luke Skywalker because it has a temperature similar to dry ice (-109°F); as well as by groundbased observatories of a planet eight times more massive than Earth where skydiving would be a thrilling endeavor (HD 40307g).
NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler
NASA Science: At Work in an Endless Frontier
What’s remarkable about the Kepler observatory and its discovery of 1,013 confirmed exoplanets in about 440 stellar systems, along with a further 3,162 unconfirmed planet candidates as of January 2015, is that as recently as two decades and one year ago, not a single planet had been found outside our solar system. More broadly, Kepler is representative of a NASA science enterprise that through its Science Mission Directorate has more than fulfilled the expectations of the nation at the time of the agency’s founding, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower observed “a developing space technology can … extend man’s knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe.” A Quarter Century of Achievement Thanks to NASA’s science enterprise, in the last 25 years alone, the space agency has made huge strides in advancing astrophysics, planetary exploration, heliophysics, and Earth science. Among NASA’s greatest science hits are: • The launching, repair, and operations of the Hubble Space Telescope well beyond its planned operating
M The largest NASA Hubble Space Telescope image ever assembled, this sweeping bird’s-eye view of a portion of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) is the sharpest large composite image ever taken of our galactic next-door neighbor. Though the galaxy is more than 2 million light-years away, the Hubble telescope is powerful enough to resolve individual stars in a 61,000-light-year-long stretch of the galaxy’s pancakeshaped disk. It’s like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. There are more than 100 million stars in this sweeping view, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk.
life, leading to fundamental discoveries about the size and age of the universe, the existence of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, the galactic environments in which quasars reside, and the processes by which stars form. • The Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE), whose work in validating the big bang theory of the universe earned NASA senior astrophysicist and project scientist John Mather the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shared with George F. Smoot. • The operations on Mars of the Sojourner (1997), Spirit (2003-2010), Opportunity (2003-present), and Curiosity (2011-present) exploration rovers, which have helped
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O The STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft caught this spectacular eruptive prominence in extreme UV light as it blasted away from the sun, April 12-13, 2010.
characterize the red planet’s geography and document evidence of water in Mars’ ancient history. • The orbiting of Saturn by the NASA-European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency Cassini spacecraft (2004-present), leading to the discovery of three new moons (Methone, Pallene, and Polydeuces) and observations of water ice geysers erupting from the south pole of the icy moon Enceladus, and the placement of the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan (2005). • The placement at the Earth-sun Lagrangian (L1) point of the NASA-European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) mission (1995), a mission that demonstrated we could detect and provide early warning of coronal mass ejections, which can harm power grids and other infrastructure, and the launching of the twin STEREO spacecraft (2006), which allows scientists to witness the solar wind in 3-D for the very first time. • The operations of the Earth Observing System, a series of satellites that provide long-term global observations of our land surface, biosphere, the solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans, thus giving scientists much of the data they need to characterize and understand the interaction of these natural systems on Earth. The Influence of Scientific, Technological, and Social Advances Today, NASA has 97 science missions in the stages of formulation, operation, and extended operation. In addition to this impressive number, what sets NASA’s Science Mission Directorate apart today from the earliest incarnations of scientific pursuits at the agency are the significant opportunities that recent scientific, technological, and social advances have enabled.
For example, following on its scientific successes with robotic missions to the planets and with its orbiting observatories, NASA has the compelling overarching mission to search for evidence of extraterrestrial biological life in places like Mars, the subsurface oceans of Europa, or in the atmospheres of Earth-like planets orbiting other stars’ habitable zones. The upcoming 2018 launch of the NASA-European Space Agency-Canadian Space Agency James Webb Space Telescope to the second Lagrange (L2) point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth will put in place the successor to Hubble; it can peer farther into the universe as well as more effectively look for biosignatures of liquid water and atmospheric gases such as oxygen that might indicate the presence of life. The Mars 2020 Rover, which will select a collection of rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth on a future mission, will also “further our search for life in the universe,” said Dr. John Grunsfeld, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Grunsfeld notes that new technological capabilities associated with human spaceflight, such as the heavy-lift Space Launch System slated for its first flight in 2018, could serve the functions of launching larger space telescopes and sending a mission on an express route to Europa. And once we do mount a Europa mission, said David Lavery, NASA program executive for solar system exploration, “The further out applications that you are going to see will be much more radical in terms of their operations, capabilities, and autonomy when we start to look at having what is essentially a robotic submarine that’s going to have to be able to go through the ice cap on Europa all the way down to the liquid ocean underneath, and be able to self deploy and actually have autonomous navigation under the ice cap and transmit all the data back. To operate in an environment that we’ve never seen before and only have a hint of what it’s going to be like is going to be a huge step forward in terms of robotic capability.” Lavery also observes that one technology link to the aeronautics world that may be employed in future Mars exploration is the use of “various types of Mars aircraft, either fixed wing or rotary wing.” Related to the recent social phenomenon of crowdsourcing, NASA has invited citizen-scientists to help astronomers discover embryonic planetary systems
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O Expedition 45/46 commander astronaut Scott Kelly, along with his brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly, speak to news media outlets about Scott Kelly’s oneyear mission aboard the International Space Station.
hidden in infrared data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, launched in 2009. “I think citizen science is tremendous,” said Geoffrey Yoder, Deputy Associate Administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. “We’re using taxpayer money for everything that we’re doing, and to be able to have gains from citizen science is just phenomenal.”
NASA photo by Robert Markowitz
Linking Science to Human Spaceflight Growing linkages between the human spaceflight world and NASA’s scientific undertakings, as illustrated by the Space Launch System, are another positive development. These links have helped bridge the historic divide between factions supporting either human space activity, or robotic exploration, but not both. On the International Space Station (ISS), science has been given a big lift from the development of the commercial cargo capabilities that have enabled more experiments to be sent to the orbiting research laboratory. ISS chief scientist Dr. Julie Robinson noted in a year-end summary that planners have responded to increasing demand for research time on the facility by adjusting schedules to up the number of hours per week allocated for science from 35 to 47 hours. Further bolstering the utility of the designated U.S. National Laboratory onboard the ISS is the fact that the administration has decided to extend ISS operations until at least 2024. The range of ISS experimentation is quite broad. In human health studies, for example, the ISS added a new capability for medical and pharmaceutical research using lab animals in 2014. In 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly’s one year stay onboard ISS will allow medical researchers to compare how his body responds to extended exposure to microgravity as compared to what happens to his identical twin brother, Mark, back
here on Earth, and also help the agency prepare for the significant medical and psychological challenges of sending crews to Mars. Earth Science has seen the ISSRapidScat instrument replace the dormant QuickScat satellite in monitoring ocean winds to provide essential measurements used in weather predictions, including monitoring tropical storms such as last year’s Typhoon Vongfong in Japan; and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) investigation, beginning this year, will use a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system to investigate clouds and aerosols for climate research. In astrophysics, the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) instrument will measure the energy of cosmic rays and their effect on the composition of the universe, and the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) will study, beginning in 2016, the exotic states of matter inside neutron stars, where density and pressure are higher than in atomic nuclei. “I spent five years at the Johnson Space Center and I’m seeing science on the ISS that I never thought I’d see,” said Yoder. “It’s great to see that marriage happening. The same goes for humans to Mars. We’re laying the foundation for human spaceflight to Mars. It’s just a tremendous opportunity if we work as a team.”
P The ISS-RapidScat instrument is a speedy and cost-effective replacement for NASA's QuikScat Earth satellite, which monitored ocean winds to provide essential measurements used in weather predictions, including hurricane monitoring.
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NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
O The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is a laser altimeter that will measure the heights of Earth’s surfaces. With ICESat-2’s high-resolution data, scientists will track changes to Earth’s ice-covered poles. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, characterize clouds, and more.
Expanding Our Scientific Horizons In NASA’s 2014 Science Plan, the agency stated its science vision going forward “is to use the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of the Sun and its effects on the solar system, our home planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future, while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns such as climate change and space weather.” A review of goals and missions for the agency’s science disciplines provides insight into coming attractions. NASA’s Heliophysics Division is gaining the public’s attention, with gigantic coronal mass ejections having already caused significant interruption of Earthbound technological infrastructure – a 1989 geomagnetic storm caused the collapse of Hydro-Quebec’s electricity transmission system – and posing a threat to space systems such as GPS. The division, with its Solar-Terrestrial Probes, Living With a Star Program, Heliophysics Explorers, and Heliophysics Research Program, has an important mission to provide better understanding of solar processes and their effects throughout the solar system. In heliophysics, the agency is focused on three overarching science goals: • Explore the physical processes in the space environment from the Sun to the Earth and throughout the solar system. • Advance our understanding of the connections that link the sun, the Earth, planetary space environments, and the outer reaches of our solar system. • Develop the knowledge and capability to detect and predict extreme conditions in space to protect life and society and to safeguard human and robotic explorers beyond Earth. NASA Heliophysics missions on the horizon include: • Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS), a partnership with Austria, France, Japan and Sweden, is launching four
spacecraft in 2015 to study the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, which will help us understand magnetic reconnection in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system’s heliosphere and interstellar space. • Solar Orbiter Collaboration, a joint NASA/European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch in 2018, will study the sun from a distance closer than any spacecraft previously has to help improve understanding of how the sun determines the environment of the inner solar system. • Solar Probe Plus, a partnership with France, Germany, and Belgium, will fly a spacecraft into the sun’s atmosphere for the first time in 2018 to understand how the sun’s corona is heated and how the solar wind is accelerated. • The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission of opportunity, an imaging instrument, will fly on a commercial communications satellite in geostationary orbit to image the Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere. • Ionospheric Connection (ICON), a partnership with Belgium, will explore the boundary between Earth and space to understand the physical environment between our world and our space environment. NASA’s Earth Science division continues to produce valuable data helping to inform the scientifically critical but politically polarizing discussion of changes in Earth’s climate. In January, NASA and NOAA scientists announced that, based on analysis of surface temperature measurements, 2014 ranked as Earth’s warmest year since 1880, with the 10 warmest years in the instrument record, with the exception of 1998, having now occurred since 2000. And it’s important to note that despite the political controversy over how climate change is discussed and addressed in general, the credibility of NASA’s scientific work has never come into question. And many people believe the Earth Science function has tremendous social utility, as evidence of climate change impacts continues to mount. The goals for NASA’s Earth Science enterprise are as follows: • Advance understanding of changes in the Earth’s radiation balance, air quality, and ozone layer that result from changes in atmosphere composition.
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O An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu.
• Improve the capability to predict weather and extreme weather events. • Detect and predict changes in Earth’s ecological and chemical cycles, including land cover, biodiversity, and the global carbon cycle. • Enable better assessment and management of water resources to accurately predict how the global water cycle evolves in response to climate change. • Improve the ability to predict climate changes by better understanding the roles and interactions of the ocean, atmosphere, land, and ice in the climate system. • Characterize the dynamics of Earth’s surface and interior, improving the capability to assess and respond to natural hazards and extreme events. • Further the use of Earth system science research to inform decisions and provide benefits to society. Among key upcoming Earth Science missions are: • Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP), a probe to map the moisture content of the Earth’s soil every three days to help better understand weather and hydrological cycle processes, launched Jan. 31, 2015. • Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), a 2017 mission to measure changes in ice sheet height, a key indicator of climate change. The agency’s Planetary Science Division looks forward to the July 14 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons mission, and its subsequent views of Pluto’s moons and of Kuiper Belt objects, which will complete NASA’s close-up reconnaissance of – International Astronomical Union be damned – the nine solar system planets, and, in the agency’s lingo, make “significant progress toward an initial reconnaissance of all the major bodies in the solar system within 33 Astronomical Units of the Sun.” The division’s science goals include: • Explore and observe the objects in the solar system to understand how they are formed and evolve. • Advance the understanding of how the chemical and
physical processes in our solar system operate, interact, and evolve. • Explore and find locations where life could have existed or could exist today. • Improve our understanding of the origin and evolution of life on Earth to guide our search for life elsewhere. • Identify and characterize objects within the solar system that pose threats to Earth, or offer resources for human exploration. With respect to the latter goal, NASA is intensifying its work to understand and categorize Near Earth Objects (NEO) such as asteroids, which is a precursor to the planned mission in the upcoming decade to capture and redirect an asteroid to a stable lunar orbit where astronauts may explore it. This work also has societal importance, as the unwelcome appearance in February 2013 of a previously undetected 17-meter asteroid over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk alerted decision-makers to the urgency of detecting city-destroying asteroids. NASA, responding to a congressional mandate, is expanding its work to find Near Earth asteroids by funding another citizen science effort to increase the number of asteroid observations by the amateur astronomer community (Asteroid Grand Challenge); by retasking the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) astrophysics spacecraft, now labeled NEOWISE, to look for Near Earth Objects; and by making fully operational this year the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), a series of eight small telescopes spread throughout the Hawaiian islands and elsewhere that will provide advanced warning of city killer (50yard diameter) and country killer (150 yard-diameter) asteroids. And in 2016, the agency will launch OSIRISREx, a mission to robotically approach and return a sample from a carbonaceous asteroid, the most common variety of asteroid.
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O This artist's concept depicts the stationary NASA Mars lander known by the acronym InSight at work studying the interior of Mars. The InSight mission (for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is scheduled to launch in March 2016 and land on Mars six months later. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars and will help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system's rocky planets, including Earth.
In addition to the New Horizons Pluto encounter, 2015 will see the Dawn spacecraft orbiting the protoplanet Ceres and investigating the role of size and water in determining the evolution of the planets. In 2016, NASA will launch InSight, a robotic Mars lander equipped with a seismometer and heat flow probe to study Mars’ early geological evolution. The agency will also place the Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter on July 4 to investigate the planet’s atmosphere, including possible water content, and advance understanding of the planet’s origin and evolution. In addition, it will also send the Cassini spacecraft on the final phase of its mission to Saturn, during which the spacecraft will perform 22 daring loops around the planet, passing through the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring. 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope launch. And while the James Webb Space Telescope is on the horizon, NASA’s Astrophysics Mission Directorate has a number of other activities aimed toward fulfilling its science goals of: • Probing the origin and destiny of our universe, including the nature of black holes, dark energy, dark matter, and gravity. • Exploring the origin and evolution of the galaxies, stars, and planets that make up our universe. • Discovering and studying planets around other stars, and exploring where they could harbor life. Among other astrophysics missions in development are the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna
(LISA) Pathfinder, a 2015 European Space Agency mission with U.S. participation that will demonstrate key technologies for future space-based gravitational wave observatories; ASTRO-H, a Japanese led x-ray observatory that will, beginning in 2016, study material in extreme gravitational fields; and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (2018), which will have the ability to discover exoplanets ranging from Earthsized to gas giants transiting in orbit around the nearest and brightest stars in the sky. In some ways, the great strides made by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate are embodied in the man who leads the enterprise. Grunsfeld, as an astrophysicist and astronaut, has traveled into space three times to service the Hubble Space Telescope, and now advocates for NASA scientific activities that will pave the way for humans to go to Mars and to answer once and for all the question as to whether biological life exists outside our planet. “It is an honor and privilege to be offered the opportunity to lead NASA’s Science Mission Directorate during this exciting time in the agency’s history,” Grunsfeld said when he was appointed to his current post in 2012. “Science at NASA is all about exploring the endless frontier of Earth and space. I look forward to working with the NASA team to help enable new discoveries in our quest to understand our home planet and unravel the mysteries of the universe.” Three years later, the quest continues and is gathering steam. l
Space Technology Mission Directorate By j.r. wilson
P An artist’s concept shows the test vehicle for NASA’s LowDensity Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), designed to test landing technologies for future Mars missions.
hen the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) was created in February 2013, it marked both a step into the future and another into the past, all the way back to NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). “There is a really strong tie-back to NACA, from a culture and purpose perspective. They were doing R&D to solve problems. One striking thing is they were tackling real problems industry didn’t know how to solve. It also was a very test-rich program – flight tests, wind tunnels – a very applied, go-figure-this-out approach,” according to Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for STMD. “We are here because technology drives exploration and trying to really get back to the NACA culture of workforce in the labs – flying, testing, occasionally breaking – and that’s OK because we’re learning along the way, developing technology and knowledge broadly applicable to the national aerospace community.” During its first three years, STMD has conducted an array of technology developments, running from early-stage research to flight demonstrations, with a primary focus on problems NASA faces in future deep space exploration missions. “We run a series of projects that invest in technology – ranging from better materials, advanced manufacturing, advanced solar arrays, composite cryo tanks, optimal communications – the agency needs in deep space. And like NACA, we get our hands dirty – test, fly, test again, etc.,” Gazarik said. Key areas in which STMD is invested include entry, descent, and landing on another planet, such as Mars, where Gazarik said the “scorecard, globally, is about 50/50.” “Landing anything on Mars is very challenging – and we’re at the limit of everything we’ve learned from our previous efforts. But looking at going there with humans means landing more than a metric ton – the most we’ve done to date – so we are working on a number of ideas on how to slow down and land on Mars. A lot of the technologies we do are applicable to both robotic and manned missions. “In Hawaii, we tested a rocket-powered vehicle, dropped from a high-altitude balloon, where the atmosphere is thin, like Mars, and descending at Mach 4. That would support not only larger science but also future human missions. In the Hawaii test, our supersonic decelerator worked great, but when we inflated the world’s largest supersonic parachute at Mach 2, it shredded in less than a second – but we learned a ton of things. Even with a supersonic parachute, we’re not going to get more than 1 metric ton or so of mass to the surface of Mars – and we need to get to 20 metric tons. So our work on entry-descent-landing will be unbelievable.”
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Other technologies STMD is pursuing include the ability to get data back from deep space – optimal communications. Gazarik noted most of the images robotic probes have taken on Mars remain there because there is not sufficient bandwidth to transmit them back to Earth. Another example is propulsion. One of the most efficient ways to move is solar electric propulsion (SEP), which provides a low-level but steady thrust. The first major SEP spacecraft, Dawn, was launched in September 2007 to visit the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt – one year orbiting the 330-mile-diameter protoplanet Vesta in 2011-12, then 16 months circling Vesta’s big sister, the dwarf planet Ceres (590-mile diameter), beginning in March 2015. STMD is working to enhance the power available from the sun, with a goal of 50 kilowatts, twice what current Earth satellites are able to generate. Increasing that power level means bigger solar arrays, pending the development of future new technologies that might pull more power from smaller arrays, as well as a better thrusting system. “We are pioneering, not only for NASA, but for the entire aerospace industry, the ability to acquire these high power levels for SEP – which is applicable across the board, including military and commercial spacecraft. That is a great example of a very NACA-like
M An artist’s concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approaching the dwarf planet Ceres ahead of an orbital arrival on March 6, 2015. The plume of blue-green exhaust issues from Dawn’s solar electric engine.
investment in technology by the government, where it is difficult for industry to do alone, and really making a difference,” Gazarik said. “NACA pioneered the way for American aviation and we’re trying to do the same for deep space. We certainly embrace many of the approaches taken by NACA and think that is how we can best serve NASA and the nation.” Another tie-back to NACA is STMD’s efforts to create renewed strong links with the nation’s universities. “We’ve seen, in the past, when NASA loses that connection, it can have long-term negative results,” he continued. “So we are trying to rebuild that, and academia is doing some fantastic research for us. They are the next generation coming through who can take these flying sources to altitude, make the parachutes succeed, work on optimal communications, etc.” With that “step into the past of NACA” bolstering their technology developments, STMD also represents a return to NASA’s early years, when the space agency was charged with sending a man to the Moon – and returning him alive – in less than a decade. At the dawn
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of the 21st century – more than 40 years after the last human walked on the lunar surface – STMD has turned an NACA/early NASA-style focus on a new piloted destination: Mars. “The horizon goal we have is Mars exploration. We’re on Mars today with a number of robots, but to go there with more powerful rovers, do sample return and eventually humans, requires developing and maturing a whole host of technologies. That sets the tone for our next two decades – getting more than a ton to the surface, life support, propulsion, recycling water and air,” Gazarik explained. “When we look at Mars, simplistically, we have to get there, live there, and return. So we will continue to work on radiation protection, power systems we can use on the surface, better spaceflight computers that can withstand the rigors of the environment. “We also see, moving forward, exploration of the outer planets – such as possible liquid under the surface of Europa. That requires a lot of new technologies to allow spacecraft to live and explore on those outer planets. And that requires lead time. There is some early mission planning going on now that would put us into the mid- to late ’20s for a mission to Europa. Of course, funding drives a lot of that as we deal with the technology challenges. Orion and the deep space heavy-lift rocket will be coming online in the next few years, and by 2019, we should have a lot of that ready to go, which will set a lot of the tone on what we can do in terms of missions.”
M A NASA graphic of the path to Mars. While probes have already traveled to Mars, and rovers operate there today, more extensive exploration, with more powerful rovers, sample return, and finally a human presence, will require the maturing of many technologies.
In the meantime, STMD believes they have time to mature near-term technologies, which have to be infused and used by the mission. “The reason we fly and test as NACA did is to make sure we understand the risks so the technology can be used, making the mission more affordable and capable,” he said. “Another important thing we’re doing is an early-stage portfolio for the out-years. NACA pushed on technologies others couldn’t even think of that were critical to building the foundation for the airlines we have today, which also is true for deep space exploration. And after only three years, we already have a really healthy portfolio of early-stage work that is ready to be matured and moved to the next level, which is key, long term, for the agency and the nation. “We started a few years ago without much traction until we could really tell the story of the program and why we need it. Since then we’ve gotten great support from Congress. But starting a new directorate and program and funding line in the midst of sequestration is groundbreaking – and a testament to the need for such an organization. NASA spent 30 years operating the [space] shuttle and building the International Space Station
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U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft land on the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Instructor pilots and students were conducting flight operations in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructorâ€™s Course 2-11, hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) 1.
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O An artist’s rendering of the Ball Aerospace smallsat, set to carry the Green Propellant Infusion Mission to space for flight-testing in 2015.
N A 5.5-meter cryogenic propellant tank during its manufacture at the Boeing Developmental Center in Tukwila, Washington. It is one of the largest composite propellant tanks ever made.
[ISS], which was fantastic; now we’re getting back to that NACA culture, developing technologies in the lab, flying above the centers, getting dirty to really solve some of the problems we face as we explore deep space.” Some of the technologies STMD has pursued may not seem as important, but the directorate sees them all as critical to the future of space exploration. One of those, working with Boeing, was construction of the world’s largest composite cryogenic tank. “A failure many years ago on a project called X-33 set the tone for decades that a composite tank couldn’t be used. We’ve shown that is no longer true and in the future can reduce vehicle weight by up to 30 percent. That will have a huge impact,” Gazarik said. “The use of high-power propulsion for DOD [the Department of Defense], NASA, and commercial spacecraft will be another big thing. Laser-comm/optical-comm already is being seen in use, not only for deep space communications, but NASA tracking and even commercial cable. “Manufacturing in space has always been a goal, especially additive manufacturing. The world’s first 3-D printer on the ISS was successful in printing the first parts in space, which will really change the way we explore and operate in space. In another area, today most spacecraft use hydrazine to maneuver. It performs well, but is very toxic to humans, both on the ground and in space. In a year or so, we will fly a less toxic, better-performing chemical we’re calling green propellant – AF-315, made by AFRL [the Air Force Research Laboratory] and integrated by Ball Aerospace. It’s an aluminum base – hydroxyl ammonium nitrate.” STMD has programs at all 10 NASA centers, including independent research and development. The Jet Propulsion Lab ( JPL) and NASA Glenn Research Center are doing the most work for the directorate,
according to Gazarik, but the others are not far behind. Although not heavily funded – about $600 million each year since it was stood up – he believes that this consistency in funding demonstrates the value NASA and Congress see in STMD’s work. Those funds pay for roughly 800 civil service employees, plus programs at 125 universities and more than 50 companies, a number Gazarik expects will continue to grow. The directorate’s proposal and competition process has attracted some 11,000 proposals that have been evaluated in the last three years. “The NASA centers, with their incredible workforce of more than 17,000 civil servants, provide much of our workforce, many coming from shuttle and ISS efforts. We’re also recruiting from both industry and academia, with more than 200 graduate fellows doing research,” he said, adding STMD has a serendipitous role in
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encouraging more American students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors. “We’ve had a very healthy competition and been able to be very selective in the awards we make. And we think we’re part of the STEM solution, providing hands-on cutting-edge work to students to attract and keep them in engineering. By design, for example, JPL had a lot of early career people on the Hawaii program, doing a lot of cross-discipline work that really became a space technology badge of honor. And moving on from that to some of the flight projects, such as JPL’s 2020 Rover. So the type of projects we have involve real hands-on work.” Given STMD’s DARPA-like (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) approach to pursuing technologies others consider too difficult – if not impossible – it is not unexpected the two organizations share some problems, as well as mutual solutions and investments, maintaining close contact to ensure they stay aligned in their efforts. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), created with NASA in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, was then and has been unique among government agencies anywhere in the world – not only is it allowed to pursue what have since become known as “DARPA-hard” technologies and solutions, it is allowed to fail in those efforts without penalty or criticism. “Technology takes time to mature – problems to solve, things to learn. So by default, the trick is to learn quickly,
M NASA Administrator Charles Bolden answers questions at a town hall meeting at Goddard Space Flight Center to talk with NASA interns, fellows, and scholars about the importance of continued interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
‘fail quickly,’ we call it, and keep a sustained investment. NASA’s ‘failure is not an option’ culture is important, certainly for human spaceflight, but for technology, risk intolerance probably is a failure. We are trying to do things more the DARPA way – doing the hard things and, on occasion, breaking things, in an agency that is not used to failing in any shape or form,” Gazarik concluded. “Technology drives exploration and we have a lot of exciting work to do, now that we are established and on our way, pushing boundaries and developing new knowledge and technologies the nation needs to explore. “In just a few more years, we will have more exploration capability than the world has ever seen. We’re in the trenches right now, but in a few years, we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow.’ One paradigm shift we’ve seen already is the use of commercial capabilities to get to LEO [lowEarth orbit] and eventually to the Moon, and dealing with the resources there. American industry has always built the hardware we use, so it’s just a slight paradigm shift to greater involvement by the private sector, as with NACA and the airline industry. We will do this together and I think that will prove to be the smart way to pave the way for future exploration.” l
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naca-nasa partnerships By J.R. Wilson
flights to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit missions. “This is a public/private partnership,” said Phil McAlister, director of the Commercial Spaceflight Development Division within NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate. “We share in the financial risks and the technical risks and the schedule risks in getting these systems developed. But our roles are fairly distinct. “The companies, the private sector, have the development responsibility. They make the decisions about how their systems are going to operate, what they’re going to look like and what the hardware is going to be. We establish our requirements that say what we want them to do. But how they do that is up to the private sector, so they really have design responsibility.” That also applies to the four companies selected in December 2014 – ATK Space Systems, Final Frontier Design, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance – as part of the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) program. The agreement involves unfunded partnerships to develop new space capabilities for the O From left, NASA Public Affairs Officer Stephanie Schierholz, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, former astronaut and director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center Bob Cabana, program manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program Kathy Lueders, and astronaut Mike Fincke, a former commander of the International Space Station, are seen during a news conference where it was announced that Boeing and SpaceX have been selected to transport U.S. crews to and from the International Space Station using the Boeing CST-100 and the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
To meet its challenge to promote U.S. aviation development, from its founding in March 1915 until it was absorbed by the new NASA in October 1958, NACA formed partnerships with industry, academia and other federal agencies. NASA continued that practice as it took over NACA’s aviation role and added to it a greatly expanded goal of promoting U.S. developments in space. As the space agency’s programs have grown in number and diversity, from its original charge to put American satellites and astronauts into space – all the way to Luna – to its new 21st century goal of pursuing an ever greater examination of the universe, resuming manned spaceflight and sending astronauts to Mars, so have its partnerships grown and diversified. NASA has always relied on its contractors to build and service rockets, satellites and spacecraft. The change is the enhanced role of industry in decision-making, with NASA acting more as an overseer. An example is the agreements NASA has signed with Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to build and operate a new generation of manrated rockets and spacecraft to resume American-owned
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U.S. government and other customers, building on the success of past initiatives to leverage NASA experience and expertise for future commercial spaceflight. “Companies in all shapes and sizes are investing their own capital toward innovative commercial space capabilities,” McAlister explained. “These awards demonstrate the diversity and maturity of the commercial space industry. We look forward to working with these partners to advance space capabilities and make them available to NASA and other customers in the coming years.” CCSC is only one of numerous no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreements (SAAs) in which NASA is creating partnerships with the burgeoning private sector in space. Others include CATALYST (Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown), in which NASA is seeking proposals for commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities, and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for study proposals related to NASA’s plan to collect and redirect an asteroid, then send astronauts to collect samples.
M Chris Ferguson, Boeing's director of Crew and Mission Operations and commander of the final space shuttle flight, virtually returned to space recently in the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 simulator to satisfy testing requirements for the spacecraft.
As part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is designed to accelerate the space agency’s asteroid initiative by expanding innovative partnerships and collaborations, the agency has partnered with SpaceGAMBIT, a U.S.-government funded open-source program supporting space-related projects and collaborations worldwide. SpaceGAMBIT and Maui Makers, a Hawaii-based non-profit corporation providing shared workspace and tools for individuals or groups, facilitated ten projects related to the Asteroid Grand Challenge. “SpaceGAMBIT and their partners have created an incredibly wide variety of projects that speak to the strong interest in asteroids and passion of the public to participate in space-related activities,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for the Asteroid Grand Challenge.
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“These projects will inspire NASA audiences and the broader community to learn and get involved.” SAAs and other partnerships are helping NASA with projects from LEO to deep space, including long-term plans for interplanetary manned and unmanned exploration, although, as with the Apollo program, NASA retains greater control and responsibility for its deep space efforts. But all NASA programs are closely linked to such partnerships into the foreseeable future, with the agency sharing its decades of expertise in fostering new technologies, with minimal government resources, to enable future human exploration of the solar system and, in the agency’s words, “advance exploration, science, innovation, benefits to humanity and international collaboration.” “As with NASA’s previous unfunded commercial partnerships, U.S. companies significantly benefit from the agency’s extensive infrastructure, experience and knowledge in spaceflight development and operations,” McAlister said. “We hope these partnerships will increase the likelihood that these entrepreneurial activities will be successful.” In October 2014, NASA released a BAA for Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP), seeking proposals from industry for concept studies and technology development projects in
M The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) is seeking proposals from industry related to NASA’s plan to capture and redirect an asteroid for further study.
three key areas: advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites. The BAA furthers NASA’s strategy to stimulate the commercial space industry while leveraging those same capabilities through future contracts and public/private partnerships. “There is no one ‘NASA,’ so when talking about partnerships and collaborations, you have to look at the different parts to really understand how industry relates to them. In years gone by, NASA used code letters and today you have the directorates. So depending on which part of NASA you are talking about can influence what we mean by partnerships,” noted R. Stephen Price, director of Civil Space Advanced Programs at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “Looking at the Science Mission Directorate in the recent past, Lockheed Martin has done a number of science missions, either as a contractor to a NASA center, providing elements to the mission, or as system integrator or supplying key subsystems. With the start of Announcement of Opportunity [AO] missions, partnerships with industry really came into its own.”
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O An artist's rendering of the Juno spacecraft. The Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in 2016 to study the giant planet from an elliptical, polar orbit. Juno is one example of a NASA program in which industry has played a key role.
There currently are two fundamental ways in which NASA implements missions, he added: • Classic directed missions – Assigned to NASA centers, such as JPL’s Mars 2020, which then issue contracts to industry. • Principal Investigator-led missions – NASA solicits mission ideas from industry, under the Discovery or New Frontiers programs. With those, industry proposes missions to explore the solar system, under a cost cap, describes what science is required and how that would be implemented, including everything except the launch vehicle. NASA then reviews all proposals to determine which offer the best value. “Ultimately, under both, contracts are issued to the industry partner. In one case you are collaborating with a NASA center; under PI-led, NASA centers compete with each other,” Price said. “Some say that is a good thing, others question why we are spending money for internal NASA competition. But it does create a different kind of relationship between the NASA centers and the industry partners. “Lately, there are more opportunities for industry to support NASA, at least on the science side, going through the AO route. There is a goal to have a Discovery mission every two years or less, although funding challenges sometimes interrupt that. Where you may only have a flagship mission every decade or so, the opportunities on the lower budget missions are much more frequent.”
Exploration programs, such as the Orion interplanetary manned spacecraft, take a different approach due to the size of their contracts, number of people involved, and duration, typically several years. “Each of these types of mission have their roll to play. The smaller missions can’t accomplish all the flagship missions can, but NASA is trying to balance its investment across these, using the decadal surveys as a guide for each center to determine what they want to accomplish, in terms of science, and in what order,” Price explained. Other missions in which industry has played a key partnership role since the start of this century include: • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter • Phoenix Mars lander • Lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) • Juno spacecraft to conduct a deep investigation of Jupiter • AVA (ASTER [Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer] Volcano Archive) • OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft that will fly to a near-Earth asteroid (Bennu), acquire at least a 2.1-ounce sample and return it to Earth • InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), a Discovery mission to place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior • Stardust comet sample return mission • Mars Science Laboratory, a rover to assess Mars’ past or present ability to support microbial life
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O Moon Express's MX-1 Lander, one of the proposals by a private company to land a commercial cargo spacecraft on the Moon for NASA’s Lunar CATALYST program.
“There have been some companies proposing to go to the moon privately – including competing for the Google Lunar XPrize – and some probably are reaching out to NASA to get support and evaluation of what they are doing. In those cases, NASA might be considered a junior partner or supporting actor, especially if one or more of those missions moves forward,” Price said. The Google Lunar XPrize is a $20 million award to the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon, send back high-definition video, then either cross the surface with a rover or take off again for a second landing, the end point for either being at least 500 meters from the first. Partnerships with industry – whether a classic contract with a NASA center, a Principal Investigator mission or a private industry initiative in which NASA acts as a consultant – have taken on greater importance and value in an era of tight budgets, increased international competition, fast-changing technologies and the goal of the agency’s young Space Technology Mission Directorate to return to NASA’s – and NACA’s roots: Pursuing those new or controversial technologies for which industry is not yet ready on its own while easing NASA’s burden by helping industry take over and advance more mature technologies the two already have developed to a point of logical privatization. It is the same process NACA – and later NASA – followed from the initial development of aviation to the creation of commercial airlines, package services and aircraft manufacturing by industry. Building on NASA’s successful legacy of past and current space activities, the agency seeks to enhance the prospects for commercial success through contributions of
technical expertise, assessments, lessons learned, technologies and data. In its July 2013 Interim Report on Public/Private Partnerships for Space Capability Development, NASA’s Office of Strategy Formulation and the Chief Technologist’s Emerging Space Office pointed to 10 areas in which private sector interest and investment, new business formation and alignment with NASA’s objectives show positive indicators for future partnerships and development: • Satellite Servicing • Interplanetary Small Satellites • Robotic Mining • Cargo Transportation Beyond LEO • Crew Transportation Beyond LEO • Microgravity Research for Biomedical Applications • Liquid Rocket Engines • Wireless Power • Space Communications • Earth Observation Data Visualization “We will continue to collaborate with NASA to help define the roadmap into the future, working with them to identify stepping stones that lay out where Orion will go, how it will take advantage of capabilities, given the priorities coming down from Congress and the administration, then help develop concepts for what the future holds,” Price said. “That’s a different kind of partnership, helping identify how we best take advantage of the capabilities being implemented today moving forward into the future. And there are new partnership models being proposed, other ways to explore the solar system, for example, or do space-based astronomy, such as telescopes looking for near-Earth objects, either for planetary protection or for potential mining targets.” l
working with ac a demia
working with academia By J.R. Wilson
America’s colleges and universities have always been a key component in the nation’s pursuit of technological leadership, from the NACA’s development and support of aviation to NASA’s goals in space. As the space agency redefines itself and its goals for the 21st century, it has renewed its outreach to academia to levels akin to those during the early decades of the Space Age. From the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions that ultimately put 12 U.S. astronauts on the moon, to Skylab, to 30 years of space shuttle missions, to the year-round manning of the International Space Station, NASA has sent nearly 300 men and women into space and charged the imaginations of millions of children and adults. Hundreds of unmanned missions have done the same, from the Hubble Space Telescope, to robotic landings on the Moon and Mars, to deep-space probes focusing
on the sun, the four inner planets (including Earth observation), the four outer giants and their moons, the asteroid belt, Pluto and its fellow dwarf planets and smaller bodies in the Kuiper Belt and, with Voyager 1 and 2, space beyond the solar system. In each of those programs, students and professors at universities throughout the nation have been involved through grants, internships, fellowships, and contracts, greatly expanding NASA’s knowledge base, offering new ideas and innovations and, in many cases, eventually becoming part of NASA’s in-house workforce. The various NASA efforts with academia also help these schools expand their own abilities to teach new generations of students, expand their science and R&D facilities, and better compete with other institutions by staying on the cutting edge of space and aeronautical technology.
O Dr. Sukesh Aghara, left, gives graduate students Khoie Pavastoo and Ruben Gener instruction on instrument calibration at a Center for Radiation Engineering and Science for Space Exploration (CRESSE) lab at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Aghara heads radiation transport simulation activities for the NASA center.
working with ac a demia
NASA’s outreach to academia is broad-based, working with universities, colleges, even community colleges, of all types and levels. It also includes a number of programs designed to encourage those who have been under represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Academic participation is sought or encouraged through such efforts as the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System (NSPIRES), Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Minority University Research & Education Project (MUREP), MUREP Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO), NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships, Discovery Program Office Announcements of Opportunity, Aerospace Research and Career Development (ARCD), and more. “On average, we serve 20-30 schools each year, most involving multi-year awards, although we also fund some 100 annual student internships at the 10 NASA centers – 10 weeks during the summer, 16 for fall and
M Research assistants in the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) experience near weightlessness during a June 2011 NASA microgravity flight. Having participated in multiple microgravity flights, UTEP students are able to conduct experiments that simulate lunar gravitation, allowing valuable insight into behavior and characterization of such things as combustion processes, exothermic welding, and other technical areas.
winter semesters,” MUREP Project Manager Joeletta Patrick said. Another approach to expanding NASA’s outreach to academia and the wider public is through the SpaceApps NASA incubator innovation program. A current SpaceApps effort is the Near Earth Recognition Objective (NERO) Project, an open source initiative to leverage more than 20 million digital camera owners to capture images of space and classify the locations of near-Earth objects through a Web-based artificial intelligence recognition engine as part of the Asteroid Imagery Sharing challenge.
and NASA: Launching a Partnership The LSU College of Engineering and the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM) are developing advanced technologies key to the production of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and components of its next-generation Space Launch System at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. Louisiana’s investment of more than $62 million in research equipment enables LSU to: • Advance new lightweight composite and metallic materials; • Support the space program and adjacent industries; and • Develop future opportunities for research collaborations with industry partners. As a space-grant institution—and home to the Louisiana Space Consortium, a NASAsponsored facility in operation since 1991 in the LSU College of Science—LSU takes pride in its long association with both NASA and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics and hopes to continue that relationship for years to come. Visit ncam.eng.lsu.edu to learn more about this and other initiatives.
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institutions. The URCs are focused on NASA research so they can work with the agency and the centers.” In 1989, NASA initiated the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (aka, Space Grant) as a network of U.S. colleges and universities working to expand education and opportunities in aeronautics and space by supporting and enhancing science and engineering education, research, and public outreach efforts. Today, more than 850 Space Grant network affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies belong to consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The consortia fund fellowships and scholarships for students pursuing STEM careers, enhance curriculum and faculty development, and administer pre-college and public service education projects in their states. NASA has used Space Grant resources for a number of strategic programs and goals, including: • Summer of Innovation (SoI) – used by the agency to implement:
N In the Mojave Desert in California, students and engineers participate in a pre-launch briefing before the lift off of the Garvey Spacecraft Corporation's Prospector P-18D rocket. The rocket was scheduled to launch the RUBICS-1 payload on a high-altitude, suborbital flight. The rocket carried four satellites made from 4-inch cube sections. Collectively known as CubeSats, the satellites were designed to record shock, vibrations, and heat inside the rocket. Built by several different organizations, including a university, a NASA field center, and a high school, the spacecraft were 4-inch cubes designed to fly on their own eventually, but will remain firmly attached to the rocket during the mission.
“NERO has an active solicitation out now for proposals. Once reviewed, awards are selected based on those that rank highest against the selection criteria outlined in the solicitation. There are no general criteria – each solicitation gives its own criteria. That’s also the case with the number of awards for any given solicitation,” Patrick said. “NERO is looking at multiple awards of up to $1 million a year for up to five years. These are not grants, but cooperative agreements with NASA oversight, annual reports, site visits – even if virtual. The funds can be used for undergrad, graduate, and research projects.” NASA also has funded some community college programs for curriculum improvement, with other projects supporting students through funded research. The agency’s University Research Centers (URCs) provide a broad-based competitive NASA-related research capability to foster new aerospace science and technology concepts, especially among Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Awardees in recent years have authored hundreds of research papers, publications and presentations on such subjects as control systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced computation and communications, biofuel combustion and jet propulsion – some of which led to patents. “At its essence, the intention of the URCs is to build capacity so these universities can better compete for science missions and other NASA research opportunities,” NASA Associate Administrator-Education Donald G. James explained. “So we have to address a combination of people and facilities – we don’t build facilities, but we do deal with people – so they can compete with other
The Sky is Going Green In 2011, Embry-Riddle competed in the NASA and Google sponsored GreenFlight Challenge with the EcoEagle. The student-built plane was honored by NASA as “the world’s first hybrid powered aircraft.” The legacy of innovation continues as students, faculty and industry partners collaborate to develop an all-electric aircraft. The University is dedicated to addressing real-world problems across many disciplines and to ensuring that the future of aviation be environmentally conscious.
Developing solutions for environmental harmony in aviation.
FLORIDA | ARIZONA | WORLDWIDE
A P P L I E D S C I E N C E S • A V I ATI O N • B U S I N E S S • C O M P UTE R S & TE C H N O L O GY • E N G I N E E R I N G • S A F ET Y, S E C U R IT Y & I NTE L L I G E N C E • S PA C E
Fact: The SIU engineering team won the Neil Armstrong Best Design Award for our moonbuggy. That means we had the best engineering solution for lunar travel. Maybe someday our engineering students will find a way to get you to the moon. So you can see our buggy.
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O Students at the 2010 Summer of Innovation see a full-scale model of the rover Curiosity.
- 2010 pilot (4,700 students and 436 educators engaged) - 2011 National Awardees partnered with Space Grant consortia in Indiana, Texas, and Nebraska - mini-grant 2011 and 2012 awards facilitated by the Space Grant Foundation • NASA Explorer Schools – provide mentoring and professional development for students and educators, assistance with sustainability plans, and mentoring and involvement in family and outreach activities • Aerospace Education Service Project (AESP) – minigrant project to deliver curriculum toolkits • Interdisciplinary National Science Program Incorporating Research and Education Experiences (INSPIRE) – twoweek on-campus, residential experience for rising 11thgrade students • Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment – Space Grant hosted the first GLOBE workshops and helped lead statewide implementation of U.S. Partners • Linking Leaders – Space Grant Directors took a leadership role to convene and facilitate interactions between statebased STEM stakeholders and state-based NASA assets • Implementing partner for state-based mission directorate initiatives: - SMD International Year of Astronomy and Space Science Student Ambassadors Programs - SMD Internships (Pilot Effort 2011) - ESMD Space Grant Innovative Projects - ESMD Senior Design Course Development - ESMD Faculty Workshop and Fellowship - ESMD Systems Engineering Education Initiative - ESMD eXploration Habitat (X-HAB) Academic Innovation Challenge • NASA Academy Programs – primary funding source for student participants at four NASA Centers – Ames, Glenn, Goddard, and Marshall
• Building network/state infrastructure to compete for federal funds: - EPSCoR - USRP (Undergraduate Student Research Program) - LARSS ( Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars) - VASTS (Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars) - K-12 Competitive Grants - SoI Capacity Building Grants • Collaboration with NASA centers and mission directorates to create regional and discipline-specific communities: - Four Mission Directorate Working Groups - Five Regional Space Grant Consortia - Student internship programs at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Marshall Space Flight Center • Student-led Flight Projects: - RockOn sounding rocket workshops - RockSat hands-on experience in designing, fabricating, testing, and conducting experiments - High Altitude Student Platform (HASP) - CubeSat – launching small student satellites - Reduced Gravity – teacher/student projects to propose, design, build, test, and fly microgravity experiments aboard NASA’s Zero G aircraft - SPHERES-ISS National Laboratory – miniature Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites designed to fly inside the International Space Station Overall in recent years, Space Grant has provided thousands of undergraduate and graduate students direct support through scholarships, fellowships, internships and real-world hands-on research and engineering challenges and tens of thousands of educators with learning activities and support materials. It also targets elementary and
SPACE-GRANT STATUS 1989
MORE THAN A CENTURY OF
PARTNERSHIP IN INNOVATION
LAND-GRANT STATUS 1876
SEA-GRANT STATUS 1971
First engineering degrees awarded at Texas A&M
First aerodynamics course offered at Texas A&M
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) forms
Texas A&M graduate Frank Malina leads formation of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Aeronautical Engineering Department established at Texas A&M
Texas Engineering Experiment Station develops space technology research division
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) forms
Texas A&M celebrates 100 years of partnership with NACA/NASA
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secondary schools through informal education, Webbased, instructional and enrichment activities, reaching hundreds of thousands of pre-college students each year. Research and analysis (R&A) offices throughout NASA’s 10 centers and four mission directorates are a major component in the agency’s relationship with academia, making awards to universities for specific research valuable to the space agency. R&A grants typically go to individual professors, who then can attach graduate students as team members on their proposals. “Grad students also can get funded through the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program,” Christina Richey, a Program Officer in the Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division, said. “The student writes a proposal, then the Principal Investigator [a professor] writes a proposal as part of the package, then it is reviewed using the same process. NASA fellowships are reviewed in a fashion very similar to the R&A process, so it is a way to help grad students become familiar with the process before they may themselves become PIs. “NASA has a website – http:/www.intern.nasa.gov – that provides one-stop shop information on fellowships, undergraduate scholarships and NASA-wide internships,” Richey said. “Those can be undergrad or graduate level opportunities for people to come to different Centers and work with NASA scientists or engineers for 6 to 12 weeks. The internships are for all students; the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowships are for graduate students; R&A grants in Space and Earth Sciences – ranging from $50,000 to $1 million – are primarily for professors, who can include grad students as part of their teams.” Most major U.S. universities have some relationship with NASA, which has seen an overall increase in R&A proposals in the last 10 years. Funding for those has remained relatively consistent, despite tight federal budgets and sequestration. “But those are strong, healthy programs, so there are plenty of opportunities available, which has led the growth we’ve had in proposals,” Richey noted. While NASA’s focus is on U.S. universities and it does not send funds to foreign government entities, it does have partnerships with non-U.S. universities, and many programs have collaborators from foreign institutions attached to individual efforts. That offers NASA an active link to research and new ideas from a global academic perspective. In Richey’s view, all academic relationships NASA has are extremely important to the agency, the nation and the future of space exploration. “It is one of the major outputs of future scientists with whom NASA will be working and a main route for people to eventually come to work for NASA,” she said. “And the fundamental science of the universe or solar system or planet is based on these efforts, making them the fundamental research foundation for what we are doing at
NASA. These are the programs that take data from various NASA missions and figure out what to do next. “Every program produces massive amounts of data. When ramping up to a project, you try to understand existing data and what we hope to achieve. Then we use data coming back from that program and extrapolate it, which raises more questions. So the more we understand about our universe and how it works, the more questions we have and the more exploration we need. That’s what we do at NASA – explore as far out as possible.” Which takes the link with academia full circle. As a result of what NASA and university researchers have learned from Hubble, she estimates at least 75 percent of all basic astronomy textbooks produced before the space telescope have been rewritten to incorporate what has been learned from it. “But we have even more unanswered questions as we have looked back farther [in time] than ever before. And now we’re working on the Webb telescope to look back even farther,” Richey explained. “And the heavy lifting, from a science level, is being done by our R&A program, which in turn relies heavily on academia. In terms of actual scientific understanding, the R&A programs are the fundamental backbone to our relationship with academia.” Using $10 million from the President’s Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative to complement its FY15 coordinated education portfolio, NASA will focus on: • STEM Engagement: Providing opportunities for participatory and experiential learning activities that connect learners to NASA-unique resources • NASA Internships, Fellowships and Scholarships: Utilizing NASA facilities and assets to provide work experiences and research and educational opportunities to improve retention in STEM and prepare students for employment in STEM jobs • Educator Professional Development: Preparing STEM educators and leaders to deliver quality STEM instruction utilizing unique NASA assets • Institutional Engagement: Improving the capacity of U.S. institutions to deliver effective STEM education That educational focus complements and enhances academia’s programmatic work with NASA on both aeronautical and space programs, today and in the future. “The uniqueness of NASA is [that] base science is the backbone of our existence, with space exploration and science being our specialization. There are plenty of other agencies who do similar things, but this really is what NASA has been excelling at since its inception. So when you’re doing this kind of research with NASA, you’re working with the best in that fundamental element,” Richey said of NASA’s outreach to academia. “I don’t want to say they’re essential, but they’re pretty close in developing our next generation of scientists and our future knowledge of science.” l
the next generation of explorers Building NASA’s future workforce
In the late 1950s, with Sputnik orbiting overhead and the United States unable to complete a successful space launch, the federal government was desperate to catch up with – and surpass – the Soviet Union, not only in space but in all areas of the new technological age in which America had assumed itself the natural leader. It was not the first time, however, that a foreign challenge led to new organizations and efforts to meet such a challenge. In 1915, Congress created the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in an effort to regain the lead the Wright brothers had given the nation with the first flight of a piloted, powered aircraft in 1903. Within a decade that lead had been lost to European developments in aircraft technology. NACA’s start, however, was far less auspicious than its successor – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – four decades later. In its early years it comprised an unpaid 12-member committee from government, military, and industry; a seven-member executive committee; and a single employee. Initially, the committee only coordinated efforts already under way across the nation’s new and growing aviation community, but soon its mission and workforce expanded to involve a greater role in U.S. aeronautics research. That included the founding in 1920 of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which grew from 11 technicians and four professional engineers to more than 100 employees by 1925. From its earliest days, NACA sought out the best and the brightest to further its growing role of making the United States a world leader in aviation. While many nations developed their own aircraft manufacturing capabilities, the United States, in the years between the two world wars, played a major role in advancing civilian aircraft and the aircraft industry, including commercial airliners and cargo planes. On the military side, however, America still lagged behind Nazi
Germany, Imperial Japan, and the United Kingdom. The pressures of World War II led to an even greater U.S. effort to bring top engineers and inventors into aeronautics to advance military aircraft technology. The development of the atomic bomb and its use in ending the war with Japan, rapid improvements in the speed and capability of both military and commercial aircraft, advances in automobiles and telephonics, and developments in the new arena of computing seemed to put the United States in the lead in postwar global technology. That was further bolstered by the NACA’s growing pursuit of missile technologies, including a mid-1950s plan to develop a manned spacecraft capable of flight into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and its safe return under the onboard control of a pilot. That illusion ended with the Oct. 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. Russia’s new claim to technology dominance – already enhanced by its development of long-range missiles and its own atomic weapons – was furthered four years later by the orbital flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In 1958, at the urging of President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress transformed NACA into NASA, a new civilian agency taking responsibility for civilian space exploration – human, satellite, and robotic – as well as aeronautical research. All NACA missions, projects, personnel, and facilities – including Langley, the Army’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL), and the Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama (now the Marshall Space Flight Center) – were incorporated into NASA. Today, NASA has 10 centers located across the United States. Once again drawing on recruitment of the best and brightest – and encouraging students as young as grade school to follow an educational path in what is now known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) – NASA took the United States from embarrassing missteps in the early years of the new Space Age to a series of successful manned lunar landings in slightly more than a single decade.
By J.R. Wilson
M LEGOs are seen assembled by students as part of a â€œBuild the Futureâ€? activity inside a tent that was set up on the launch viewing area at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 3, 2010. NASA and The LEGO Group signed a Space Act Agreement to spark children's interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Despite continued advances in aviation and space – including the Skylab manned orbital platform, the space shuttle, numerous robotic missions throughout the solar system, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the International Space Station – student interest in and pursuit of STEM majors has been on the wane since the 1970s, with fewer U.S. STEM post-graduate degrees awarded each year, even as the number of foreign students earning Ph.D.s from American universities grew to a significant majority. With China now a successful third member of the exclusive club of space-faring nations and publicly committed to manned lunar landings – and a permanent base – in the 2020s and a similar plan for Mars in the 2030s, the United States is once again faced with a need to grow the numbers of the nation’s STEM-educated scientists and engineers. While that crosses virtually every component of modern technology – including microchips, computing, automobiles, aviation, robotics, etc. – NASA’s need to replace its aging workforce is most urgent. “We need to ensure we have qualified new people, especially as we work on future programs, such as the Journey to Mars,” said Donald G. James, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education. “It’s not only important for NASA’s future workforce, but for the nation. NASA has a unique role in advancing the nation’s STEM agenda, which is getting many more highly qualified STEM teachers – mathematicians teaching math, chemists teaching chemistry, etc. – as well as more students.” NASA works with the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Commerce Department, and others in the federal government that have a role in STEM education. They also have partnered with the NSTC Committee on STEM Education, which is trying to align the entire federal portfolio to further investment in those areas of education. NASA efforts include the Aerospace Research and Career Development Program and the STEM Education and Accountability Program, but there are many other programs and outreach efforts. NASA’s Education Express blog (blogs.nasa.gov/educationexpress/) is updated regularly with news on new NASA initiatives, outreach efforts, educational resources available to students and teachers, internships, fellowships, and more. The space agency’s STEM mission was outlined in the NASA 2014 Strategic Plan: “Drive advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth.” To achieve those goals, NASA will continue its tradition of investing in the nation’s education programs and supporting educators who play a key role in preparing, inspiring, exciting, encouraging, and nurturing today’s students, who will manage and lead the nation’s laboratories and research centers tomorrow. A new organizational structure for NASA’s Office of Education includes using four key lines of business
M Then-Associate Administrator for Education at NASA and former astronaut Leland Melvin gives a thumbs up to International Space Station (ISS) crew members Rick Mastracchio, screen left, and Michael Hopkins during a live downlink at an event where they and eight astronaut candidates talked with Washington-area students and the public about the value of STEM education, Jan. 30, 2014, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
– educator professional development, institutional engagement, STEM engagement for all learners, and NASA internship, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities – to ensure the agency’s education investments are unique and non-duplicative. Working toward those with the NASA Office of Education Infrastructure Division (OEID) and the Office of the Chief Information Officer, according to the Strategic Plan, will “enhance our effectiveness and efficiency as we progress in our strategic objective.” “The NASA role is unique because of our unique mission. We’re also fortunate to have a very good brand, which draws a lot of attention to the things we do – good or bad – and have the ability to reach a lot of students and teachers and provide teachers with relevant materials and students with topical information,” James added. Among the efforts to reach students at all levels is NASA’s STEM Challenges, designed for grades 5 to 8 and based on real mission data and experiences from human and robotic space exploration. Educators are provided with NASA training for each challenge and students may participate in live connections with NASA scientists and engineers to support the development of their designs. Another is NASA’s participation in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program, where accomplished K-12 teachers spend 11 months working at a NASA center. The program provides a two-way channel for understanding and enhancing STEM education: The teachers bring their own classroom knowledge and experience to NASA’s education program and policy efforts; NASA provides them with a unique professional development opportunity.
P Students stride across the brilliant white hardpan of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Tooele County, Utah, May 17, 2014, during the "launchfest" that concluded the 2013-14 NASA Student Launch rocketry competition. Sixteen teams comprising some 250 student participants from 15 states launched rockets of their own design, complete with three working science and engineering payloads apiece. The annual NASA education event, designed to inspire young people to pursue studies and careers in the STEM fields, is organized by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and sponsored by ATK Aerospace Group of Magna, Utah.
For many years, NASA has placed a heavy emphasis on systems engineering. From asteroid retrieval to space telescopes, most NASA projects involve a great deal of heavy engineering disciplines to make all the pieces fit together. And as the agency looks to its future “big picture” objectives, they need those students currently in elementary and high school to take courses preparatory to a future collegiate STEM curriculum that would position them to solve such problems.
M Members of the Oregon State University Mars Rover Team prepare their robot to attempt the level one competition at the 2014 NASA Centennial Challenges Sample Return Robot Challenge, June 11, 2014, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts. Teams were required to demonstrate autonomous robots that can locate and collect samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The NASA-WPI Centennial Challenge aimed to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies. Innovations stemming from the challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.
NASA also has sought out broader student and teacher interest in STEM through such programs as the online STEM-in-Sports, which demonstrates the science behind throwing a touchdown pass, slam-dunking a basketball, and hitting a home run. As part of NASA’s Digital Learning Network, it gives K-12 students and teachers an opportunity to connect with NASA scientists, engineers, and researchers without leaving the classroom. There are myriad STEM resources availialable, such as STEM on Station (http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/ expeditions/stem/#.VMfxr8aSKK4), which provides videos and other instructional resources for teachers to use in teaching STEM subjects to their students. NASA also has a number of programs to encourage broad participation in STEM by minorities currently under-represented in the STEM fields. “The Minority University Research & Education Program [MUREP] offers multi-year funding for minority-serving institutions, defined by the Department of Education under four White House executive orders as focused on historically black, tribal, Hispanic, and Pacific island colleges and universities,” noted MUREP Project Manager Joeletta Patrick. “This program provides funding, builds infrastructure, and increases research capabilities by reaching out to historically under-represented groups in order to improve retention rates and increase the pipeline of minorities in STEM. “We have an omnibus solicitation called EONS – Education Opportunities in NASA STEM – within the NASA system called NSPIRES [NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System], where grants and cooperative agreements are competed.” NASA’s primary focus for engaging STEM at the college level is providing hands-on experience and learning at the 10 NASA centers through internships, fellowships, and scholarships. These on-the-job opportunities are filled using a competitive process that matches candidates to work in NASA labs. “Our intent is to show students how their academic learning is relevant to their work experience so that, as they move forward, they can enter the workforce with their eyes wide open regarding their work requirements,” James explained. “When I ask students to explain their work, I ask them: ‘So what? Why should I care about this? What does it mean to me or my friends or the country?’ That forces them to think critically about the bigger picture, why the technology they’re working on may improve the lives of those who are going to fund their work.”
O Joey Hudy demonstrates his Intel Galileo-based 10x10x10 LED Cube during the first-ever White House Maker Faire at the White House, June 18, 2014. The event brought together students, entrepreneurs, and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch new businesses, learn vital skills in STEM, and fuel the renaissance in American manufacturing.
For example, the December 2014 flight test of NASA’s new interplanetary spacecraft, Orion – the first humanrated spacecraft the United States has built since Apollo to leave low-Earth orbit – carried an experiment, created by Virginia high school students who won a broad competition, to measure radiation exposure levels astronauts will experience beyond LEO. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate is equally in need of more STEM-educated and -trained personnel in the future. In both realms, future scientists and engineers will need to deal with concepts and developments that do not now exist. Until 1992, there was no scientific evidence of other planets in the galaxy, for example, but today thousands of extra-solar planets have been discovered – and the new Webb telescope will enable astronomers to determine whether those planets have atmospheres that would support the potential for extraterrestrial life. “There are disciplines we don’t even think about today, as was the case until very recently with nanotech. Students pursuing broad fields will become more and more specialized. I think it’s an exciting time to think about STEM in general, but it doesn’t just mean chemistry for science, 3-D printers for technology, etc. It goes beyond that and will be much more integrated, with new ways of applying capabilities academically,” James explained. “Part of the goal for the universities is making sure students have the foundation work taken care of, because they won’t be sure what they will be involved with five or 10 years later. Look at genomics and neural science and how applicable those are to spaceflight. Critical thinking is good and can happen in any field and discipline, and NASA is doing its part to get the results of what we are doing into the classroom and engage students.” In August 2014, NASA’s Office of Education announced more than $17.3 million would be awarded through the National Space Grant and Fellowship Program to increase student and faculty engagement in STEM at community colleges and technical schools across the nation. Each of the 35 awards has a two-year performance period and a maximum value of $500,000.
Winning proposals submitted to the national Space Grant Consortia outlined ways to attract and retain more students to STEM classes at community and technical colleges, develop stronger collaborations to increase student access to NASA’s STEM education content, and increase the number of students who advance from an associate to a bachelor’s degree. Another area of NASA’s STEM investment is educator professional development, working with both students who plan to become teachers as well as teachers already in the schools to add value to the academic curriculum for both. Although NASA’s overall investment in education, in terms of dollars spent, is a fraction of the total spent by the federal government as a whole, as well as the states and local communities, it is committed to a universal goal to encourage future teachers to also acquire advanced degrees in STEM subjects to ensure local schools have highly qualified faculties. “NASA’s job is to leverage the work we do to help any teacher do a better job of teaching that subject. We are changing textbooks every year, especially with space science, as we learn more and more about our universe. If you print something, it probably is out of date by the time it reaches the classroom, but if you have teachers who are knowledgeable about that, they can make it current and relevant and excite their students about what is happening right now,” James said. “We need to figure out the barriers that have kept some people from getting involved, which is why we are showcasing women and minorities in NASA, so kids can see themselves in these jobs. The things we’re working on touch something in every individual because, in our hearts, we are all explorers and innovators. We want to understand everything from robots to the climate – NASA is not really in the research business so much as the search business. It is imperative for this agency to do what it does best.” That includes making it possible for student experiments to be conducted in space, arranging communications downlinks between orbiting astronauts and students on the ground, and using all of NASA’s unique assets to best engage students at all levels. “We have apprenticeships and other programs, especially in the engineering community, that enable young engineers to access archived data and even talk with older engineers who were involved in some of those previous programs,” James concluded. “So I don’t feel there is a huge danger of a gap [in a STEM-educated future workforce] – the danger is complacency. We need to make older workers available to talk to young workers, but allow the new workers to come in with fresh new technologies and approaches.” l
Apollo 17 lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt stands on the Moon with the lunar module Challenger in the background.
On March 3, 2015 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the global aerospace community commenced celebrating the cente...
Published on Mar 3, 2015
On March 3, 2015 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the global aerospace community commenced celebrating the cente...