Harnessing the power of the Sun to provide thrust for transport in space has long been a part of science fiction imagery. Now a reality after decades of development, it has found increasing use for applications ranging from station-keeping to orbit-raising. Obstacles remain, but evolving technology should enable expanding applications of this weight-saving form of energy, possibly even for manned spaceflight.
Miniature satellites resembling the flying robot that helped Luke Skywalker with his light saber training are now serving as mission control’s eyes and ears aboard the International Space Station.
It’s hard not to get freakishly excited when science fiction becomes scientific fact — especially when the origins of that science are rooted in Star Wars.
Think back, young Jedis, to the scene where a fresh-off-Tatooine Luke Skywalker is honing his light saber skills under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi. A round, floating robot called a remote helps Luke practice his Force-finding mojo. Now, NASA is running experiments with miniature satellites, or nanosatellites, that were inspired by that fictional robot.
Roughly the size of a soccer ball, these robots that fly freely in space are called Spheres (which is short for Synchronized Position Hold Engage Reorient Experimental Satellites). Star Wars connection aside, there’s another remarkable detail about Spheres: they’re powered by smartphones, specifically a Google Nexus S.
We often think of NASA in grandiose terms — tackling the biggest problems with the biggest thinking, applying the grandest ideas that mankind can conceive. But now, NASA is thinking small in a big way, applying a DIY ethos to spaceflight, and using commercially available tools and technologies to get the job done.
Instead of gigantic systems costing millions of dollars, and thousands of man hours to produce and launch, the next greatest idea is to focus on the small things — using off-the-shelf products and small-scale design to take an approach to space systems research that is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient. Aboard the International Space Station, the SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) are already doing just that.
NASA Tournament Lab is launching two new competitions, this time to give Robonaut 2, the humanoid robot aboard the international space station, the gift of improved “sight.” The challenges are the latest offered by the Tournament Lab in conjunction with the open innovation platform TopCoder.
The first competition calls on participants to figure out how to enable Robonaut 2, or R2, to identify buttons and switches on a console fitted with LED lights. The winning entry would be in the form of an algorithm application that works seamlessly with R2’s cameras in different lighting conditions. The second competition will build off the first, calling on competitors to write an algorithm that controls the robot’s motions based on the new “sight” capability.
A new 15kW high power Hall thruster is being developed to support a Solar Electric Propulsion Technology demonstration mission within the ISP project. One of the key design features for the new thruster will be the use of magnetic shielding for improving thruster life by shaping the magnetic field to reduce discharge channel wall erosion.
Click here for more information: http://apl.aip.org/resource/1/applab/v102/i2/p023509_s1.
Charles Bolden, NASA administrator and former astronaut, praises the potential of 3D printing to one day quickly create any parts that space travelers would need, and do it with material from whatever planet, moon, or asteroid they happen to inhabit.
During a visit to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, I had the opportunity to see where NASA engineers were working on Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3. This innovation in fabrication is a kind of “additive manufacturing” machine that uses an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed and computer controls to manufacture metallic structures for building parts or tools in hours, rather than days or weeks.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’re seeing a lot about 3D printing in the news these days. President Obama specifically mentioned it in his State of the Union address as one innovative technology that will help us advance the future of manufacturing.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden toured a cutting-edge facility at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where high-tech manufacturing is creating parts for a next-generation rocket that will launch astronauts to more distant destinations than ever before.
NASA’s National Center for Advanced Manufacturing Rapid Prototyping Facility is just one of the ways the agency is helping to revitalize America’s manufacturing sector. According to a study by the Washington-based Tauri Group, the agency contributed $5 billion to U.S. manufacturing industry in 2012.
Robonaut 2 – the first dexterous humanoid robot in space – is pictured in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station measuring the air flow in front of vents inside the station to ensure that none of the ventilation ductwork gets clogged or blocked. Credit: NASA
The NASA team behind Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, has been awarded the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Automation and Robotics Award for 2013. AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession.
Robonaut 2, or R2, is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Sent to the International Space Station in 2011 with the intention of aiding astronauts on dangerous tasks and freeing them from some the more mundane work, upgrades to the R2 system continue to produce novel advances in the field of robotics.
“The R2 development team is an incredible group of talented people and I am so proud that the team has been recognized with this prestigious honor,” said Dr. Myron Diftler, Robonaut Principal Investigator at NASA Johnson. “To be acknowledged this early in our planned activity on ISS is especially notable. This award from our peers gives us increased confidence that R2 is on a track to even more success as we move towards mobility inside, and then outside the International Space Station.”
The citation for the award reads, “In recognition of the Robonaut 2 Development Team’s pioneering technical achievement and advancement of humanoid dexterous robotics for human space exploration.”
Technologies developed by the R2 team have debuted in spinoff wearable robotic devices. The Robo-Glove, designed to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries and provide additional gripping strength to astronauts, is a direct descendant of the actuators and controls found in R2’s hands. Also drawing from the robot’s design team, the X1 exoskeleton device is a robot that a human could wear over his or her body either to assist or inhibit movement in leg joints.
R2 is part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, which seeks to quickly mature innovative technologies that will have cross-cutting applications throughout agency missions and may also be of benefit to the American aerospace industry. NASA’s Game Changing efforts are part of the agency’s Space Technology Program, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future science and exploration missions. NASA’s technology investments provide cutting-edge solutions for our nation’s future.
Case Western Reserve University, NASA Glenn Research Center and software-maker PTC are teaming up to put students to work on real aerospace projects, manufacturing problems and more, with tools used in the industry.
Case Western Reserve is the second university nationwide to become a host of NASA’s Strategic Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering (SPACE) program. The program is designed to help train the next generation of engineers and scientists.
PTC will provide tools to take on projects from NASA and, in the future, other industries in Northeast Ohio and around the United States. For the SPACE program, PTC is donating PTC Windchill software for Product Lifecycle Management requirements and PTC Creo software for Computer Assisted Design, along with computer hardware servers. The software is used by 27,000 businesses in rapidly evolving, globally distributed manufacturing industries worldwide.
Humans regularly lose their lives rushing into disaster zones. Now engineers are racing to build robots that can take their place.
By the end of next year, robots will walk into a disaster zone. They won’t roll in on wheels or rumble in on treads. They will walk, striding across rubble, most of them balancing on two legs. Compared with human first responders, the machines will move slowly and halt frequently. But what they lack in speed, they make up for in resilience and disposability. Chemical fires can’t sear a robot’s lungs, and a lifespan cut short by gamma rays is a logistical snag rather than a tragedy.
They’ll have the mobility to do what robots couldn’t at Fukushima, navigating a crisis that unfolds in an environment lousy with doors, stairs, shattered infrastructure, and countless other obstacles. Where previous humanoid bots could barely trundle over the lip of a carpet, these systems will have to climb ladders and slide into vehicles that they themselves drive. And while the ability to turn a doorknob is now cause for celebration even in top-tier robotics labs, these bots will open what doors they can and use power tools to hammer or saw through the ones they can’t.
Because disasters tend to degrade or knock out communication, the surrogates will have a surprising amount of responsibility. Very few, if any, will be tele-operated systems, driven remotely by people using a joystick or wearing sensor gloves. The humanoids will take orders from distant humans, but they’ll use their own algorithms to determine how to properly grip a Sawzall, where to start cutting, and for how long.
The catastrophe the robots will be walking into is, in fact, an obstacle course, built for the two-year-long DARPA Robotics Challenge, which launched last October. At stake is a $2-million prize, awarded to the team whose machine not only scores well in a head-to-head competition this December, but prevails at a second one in 2014. Bots will have to perform eight different tasks, demonstrating both mobility and manipulation skills, that might be required of human first responders.
“What we’ve seen in disaster after disaster, from Hurricane Katrina to Fukushima and now to Superstorm Sandy, is that there are often clear limitations to what humans can accomplish in the early stages of a disaster,” says Gill Pratt, program manager for the challenge. “DARPA believes that robots can substitute for humans where and when situations are too dangerous.”
The competition rules don’t explicitly call for a humanoid design, but the tasks and environment make one a logical choice. From the height of doorknobs to the placement of brake pedals, nearly everything will be positioned and proportioned for creatures that walk upright. The places we care about most in a disaster are where humans live and work—a robot made in our own image is a natural fit.
Completing just a few of the competition’s tasks would be a remarkable achievement. Nailing all eight of them would be something more. It could mean the birth of the viable humanoid, a machine that’s both competent and robust. Such robots could go where mankind has gone before but shouldn’t again, striding toward the toxic plume or the reactor in meltdown, into the fresh ruins of the built world. These robots could be heroes.
HAMPTON, Va., Jan. 31, 2013 — NASA Space Technology’s Game Changing Development Program has selected eight proposals to develop advanced thermal control system technologies for future spacecraft.
The selected proposals will address a difficult design challenge facing future spacecraft – the development of a thermal control system that can reject high heat loads in a warm thermal environment yet still operate efficiently in a cold environment.
Similar to how heating and cooling systems keep people comfortable on Earth, thermal control systems are an important part of keeping astronauts safe and comfortable in space.
The spacecraft, and everything on board, must remain within a specified temperature range during a variety of mission phases and in a dynamic environment with extreme temperature changes.
Known as, “variable heat rejection thermal control systems,” NASA human spaceflight studies, as well as those from the Space Technology Roadmaps and the National Research Council’s response to these roadmaps, have found that thermal control is a key capability required in order for humans to extend our presence farther into space.
“The technologies selected as part of this activity address today’s most difficult design challenge facing thermal engineers and are applicable to all future crewed and robotic exploration missions,” said Stephen Gaddis , director of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program, located at NASA’s Langley Research Center. “Advancing state of the art thermal control systems will be the rising tide that lifts all future spacecraft designs.”
Proposals for this solicitation were received from NASA field centers, federally funded research and development centers, educational institutions, and industry. Additionally, many of the proposed activities involved a collaborative effort combining the contributions of individuals from a wide range of performing entities.
Awards for the Phase 1 activity will range up to $50,000 each with a total NASA investment of approximately $400,000.
The proposals that have been selected for contract negotiations are:
- “Improved Variable Conductance Heat Pipes, iVCHP,” Sergey Semenov , Thermacore Inc., Lancaster, Penn.
- “A Spacecraft Thermal Management System With Freeze-Tolerant Radiator,” Grant Bue , NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston
- “Development of Low Temperature Non-Toxic Thermal Control Fluid for Use in a Single Loop Variable Heat Rejection Thermal Control System,” Rubik Sheth , NASA Johnson, Houston,
- “Thermal Control Using Liquid-Metal Bridge Switches,” Amir Hirsa , Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.
- “Temperature Controlled Effective Radiator Area Using Shape Memory Alloys,” Thomas Cognata , MEI Technologies, Inc., Houston
- “Development of a Heat Switch Radiator,” Gregory Quinn , Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems International, Inc., Houston
- “Scalable, Passive, Adjustable Heat Rejection System (SPAHRS), David Bugby , ATK Space Systems, Beltsville, Md.
- “Development of a Robust Freeze Start-Up Radiator,” Wei-Lin Cho , Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems International, Inc., Houston
For information about the Game Changing Development and Space Technology Programs visit:
To build and supply a lunar base, astronauts will need heavy-duty space trucks for transporting gear. There’s just one problem: no roads. That’s why NASA engineers designed the rover they call ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer)—to handle any terrain, whether dusty, rocky, or crater-y.
The key is the rover’s six bendable spider legs and wheeled feet. On smooth surfaces, it rolls on those wheels; when it runs into an obstacle it can’t clear, it simply steps over it. ATHLETE can also split into a pair of robots that together pick up and haul specially designed shipping containers. (A lander would bring a container to the surface separately.)
So far, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have demonstrated that their $2 million half-size prototype—which consists of two semiautonomous, three-legged robots—can move cargo, walk on inclines, and use tools. The researchers say the actual, 26-foot-tall rover could be ready to start working in space by 2017.
1) The ATHLETE moon rover has 48 stereo cameras, which stream 3-D video from its limbs, frame, and wheels to human operators on Earth or the moon, allowing them to look for hazards and maneuver tools. ATHLETE will have more cameras than any previous rover. (Curiosity has 17.)
2) The rover can refill its hydrogen fuel cells at a solar-powered station that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen (for astronauts to breathe).
3) ATHLETE’s wheeled limbs let it walk, drive, or climb, depending on the environment. Each has seven motorized joints that bend and twist. ATHLETE controls each leg separately so that it can keep cargo level even while climbing uneven terrain.
4) Drills, scoops, and grippers collect rock and soil samples for analysis. One set of motors operates both the wheels and tools, which saves weight and makes the rover cheaper to launch into space.
5) Clamps on the wheels hold interchangeable tools.
6) A tool belt stores gear when not in use.
7) Airless tires can’t burst or go flat.
HOW IT HAULS
8) Drive: People in mission control (on Earth or on the moon) tell the ATHLETE rover to drive to a lander that has just touched down, carrying a cargo pallet. Incoming supplies must land far from the astronauts’ base to prevent jagged moondust from damaging equipment.
9) Split: ATHLETE divides into two identical, three-legged rovers, called Tri-ATHLETEs, by lifting motorized hooks that latch across its center.
10) Stretch: The rovers straighten their legs until they’re 27 feet tall—high enough to reach above the lander to the cargo pallet—and use their motorized hooks to grab pins on either side of the cargo.
11) Walk: If the rovers travel over rocky terrain too uneven for driving, they can walk while keeping the cargo level.
12) Deliver: The rovers crouch down until the pallet is on the ground and then release it.
On Dec. 12 engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and Johnson Space Center in Houston conducted an experiment using small, free-flying robotic satellites called “Smart SPHERES” aboard the International Space Station.
The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station’s Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.
In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.
On Dec. 12 engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and Johnson Space Center in Houston conducted an experiment using small, free-flying robotic satellites called “Smart SPHERES” aboard the International Space Station.
The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station’s Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.
In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.
On September 13, the research team demonstrated the first use of a heat pipe to cool a small nuclear reactor and the first use of a Stirling engine to convert the reactor heat into electricity. The test was conducted at the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility near Las Vegas. The Demonstration Using Flattop Fissions (DUFF) experiment produced 24 watts of electricity.A heat pipe is a sealed tube with an internal fluid that can efficiently transfer heat produced by a reactor with no moving parts. Heat pipe technology was invented at Los Alamos in 1963 and is used widely by NASA for aerospace applications. A Stirling engine is a relatively simple closed-loop engine that converts heat energy into electrical power using a pressurized gas to move a piston within a magnetic field. Using the two devices in tandem allowed for creation of a simple, reliable electric power supply that could be adopted for space applications.
Researchers configured DUFF on an existing experiment, known as Flattop, to allow for the water-filled heat pipe to extract heat from uranium. Heat from the fission reaction was transferred to a pair of free-piston Stirling engines manufactured by Sunpower Inc., in Athens Ohio. Engineers from Glenn designed and built the heat pipe and Stirling assembly, and operated the engines during the experiment. Los Alamos nuclear engineers operated the Flattop assembly under authorization from the National Nuclear Security Administration.
DUFF is the first demonstration of a space nuclear reactor system to produce electricity in the United States since 1965. It confirms the basic nuclear reactor physics and heat transfer for a simple, reliable space power system.
“The heat pipe and Stirling engine used in this test are meant to represent one module that could be used in a space system,” said Marc Gibson, Glenn’s lead engineer for the test. “A flight system might use several modules to produce approximately one kilowatt of electricity.”
“The nuclear characteristics and thermal power level of the experiment are remarkably similar to our space reactor flight concept,” said Los Alamos engineer David Poston. “The biggest difference between DUFF and a possible flight system is that the Stirling input temperature would need to be hotter to attain the required efficiency and power output needed for space missions.”
A power system based on the concept demonstrated by DUFF could be attractive for future space exploration missions that may require significantly higher power levels than current systems can easily provide.
“Perhaps one of the more important aspects of this experiment is that it was taken from concept to completion in six months,” said Los Alamos engineer David Dixon. “We wanted to show that with a tightly-knit and focused team, it is possible to successfully perform practical reactor testing.”
Glenn’s contributions were made possible through resources provided by the NASA Radioisotope Power Systems Program Office within the Science Mission Directorate and the Nuclear Systems project under the NASA Office of Chief Technologist, Game Changing Development Program.
The Los Alamos participation in this experiment was made possible through Los Alamos’s Laboratory-Directed Research and Development Program and program office support.
For a print quality image of a test operator inserting the heat pipe into the reactor, visit:
For more information about Glenn, visit:
For more information about Los Alamos National Laboratory, visit:
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What swallows Lake Erie water, motors quietly through the streets of Cleveland, and expels water good enough to drink from its tailpipe? It’s a brand new Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) bus, part of a demonstration of clean, alternative transportation.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center is supporting a community-based partnership with RTA, the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Aerospace Institute and several technology development companies, to add a hydrogen-fueled demonstration bus to the RTA fleet. It will transport passengers 60-80 miles a day along various routes with emissions of only water and heat, and will be refueled at a station at RTA’s Hayden bus garage equipped with technologies developed at Glenn.
“What makes this project unique is that Glenn has installed the first electrolysis-based refueling station in Ohio,” says Carolyn Mercer, manager of the Space Power Systems Project. “This means we don’t have to transport hydrogen tanks; we make the fuel on site, which is safer and more cost-effective.”
The electrolysis unit takes in city water, purifies it via an internal de-ionizing process and uses electricity to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. The generated hydrogen is then stored in tanks ready for use.
The dispenser operates similar to a typical gas pump. The bus is driven up alongside it, the nozzle securely connects using a pressure-sealed flange and the tank is filled with hydrogen. The fueling station is located in East Cleveland because the RTA garage there is equipped to fuel natural gas buses and the infrastructure is very similar. While it is currently powered by electricity from the grid, solar or wind power could operate the station in the future.
Most buses run on diesel or gas-powered engines and emit the characteristic black plume of smoke when they accelerate from a stop. Hydrogen fueled buses, however, are powered by an electric motor and use a fuel cell instead of a battery to provide the electricity. There is no smoke, just water emitted.
“NASA Glenn has a long history of developing fuel cells and we want the public to understand how they can be used in an efficient and clean transportation system,” says Valerie Lyons, chief of the Power and In-Space Propulsion Division. “The concept of a “fuel cell” was around in the 1800s but when NASA developed a fuel cell for the Gemini program during the early days of space flight, it enabled the creation of a viable commercial market for fuel cells – yet another way that NASA technology creates jobs.”
Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells convert the chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen into electrical energy with heat and water as byproducts of the electrochemical reaction. These fuel cells work with a very thin membrane of catalyzed film. Hydrogen is on one side and oxygen on the other. When the hydrogen passes through the membrane, it gives up an electron, which makes electric current to fuel the engine. Hydrogen finds oxygen on the other side of the membrane to combine and make water, which is discarded through the tailpipe. Advantages of replacing the engine with a fuel cell include the elimination of harmful emissions, a reduction in moving parts and a virtually silent operation.
Research at Glenn is focused on improving the reliability and efficiency of fuel cells and electrolysis systems. NASA’s Space Power System supports the hydrogen bus effort, which is a NASA Space Technology Game Changing Development project. These projects focus on innovative work that not only changes the way we operate in space but can also change the way we do things here on Earth.
Hydrogen sensors incorporated into the refueling station are spinoffs from NASA research for space launch systems. Makel Engineering, working with Glenn, has commercialized these miniature, high-tech hydrogen gas sensors to detect leaks. Now exposed to Cleveland weather year around, these technologies, originally developed for space and aeronautics, will demonstrate applications in everyday life.
“RTA continues to be committed to green technology while supplying safe and reliable service,” says Mike Lively, manager of the Operations Analysis, Research and Systems Department at RTA. “Our partnership with NASA has made it possible to offer the first of this technology in Ohio and we are excited to offer it to our riders and the Cleveland community.”
Creativity is not a skill just for writers, painters or musicians, according to a recent survey focused on the value of thinking creatively in careers beyond the arts.
The Adobe study, “Creativity and Education: Why it Matters,” surveyed 1,000 full-time salaried workers, age 25 or older, with at least a four-year college degree. The majority of respondents — 68 percent — said creativity isn’t a personality trait, but a skill that can be learned. And 71 percent said creativity should be taught as a class.
NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton offers a class once a month for its employees to enhance creativity.
“Everything we do is about creativity and innovation,” said Steve Gaddis, head of the Game Changing Development program.
The focus of the program is to find ways to transform future space missions by reducing cost and increasing efficiency, which Gaddis said cannot be done without creative thinking.
Gaddis said one class exercise links traditional engineering approaches to developing technologies and asking the “What ifs.” The students are told to come up with a dozen or more ideas to solving the problem, no matter how outlandish, he said.
“You never know when that a-ha! moment is going to come,” he said.
Area educators agree that learning creative thinking can be helpful beyond the arts.
A 2.4-meter-diameter propellant tank made of composite materials arrived on Nov. 20, 2012 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where engineers are preparing it for testing. Composite tanks have the potential to significantly reduce the cost and weight for heavy-lift launch vehicles and for other future in-space missions. The tank’s arrival marks a significant milestone that was made possible because of contributions made over the last year by multiple NASA centers and The Boeing Company, the prime contractor for the project. This is the largest composite tank ever produced with new materials that do not require autoclave processing. Complex autoclaves for processing large composite structures are high-pressure furnaces. Boeing used a novel automated fiber placement technique to manufacture the tank in Tukwila, Washington. Marshall is leading the Composite Cryotank Technologies and Demonstration project with support from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida through funding provided by the NASA Space Technology’s Game Changing Development program.
In the coming months, the tank will undergo a series of hydrogen pressure tests in Marshall’s test facility where engineers will measure its ability to contain liquid hydrogen at extremely cold, or cryogenic, temperatures. NASA and Boeing engineers will use the test results to refine the tank design and build a larger 5.5-meter composite tank scheduled for testing in early 2014. The design features and manufacturing processes can be applied to propellant tanks similar in size to tanks needed for heavy-lift rockets. Large propellant tanks for the space shuttle and other vehicles have typically been made of aluminum.
Image caption: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given
No matter where you stand from inside the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) 60,000 square-foot facility, you can see all the way through. From within the glass walls, you might witness equipment being installed, or scientist working in one of 10 research laboratories. Or you could see CCAM members collaborating in the “common space,” or working in the 3-D Visualization Center.
CCAM’s Executive Director David Lohr sees a clear connection between that new facility and what NASA has been doing for many years.
“I think it will also give you a window into the future opportunity that exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia — to leverage what we’re doing to bring technology driven manufacturing back to America, and specifically, back to Virginia,” Lohr said.
At NASA Langley’s November Colloquium titled, “CCAM: A Game-Changing Partnership for Growing Advanced Manufacturing in the USA,” Lohr talked about what CCAM is doing to define advanced technology that companies need in order to remain competitive in an intensely global marketplace.
Current members of CCAM include Newport News Shipbuilding, Canon, Rolls Royce, Siemens, Chromalloy, and Aerojet, along with other industrial companies and universities.
“Our job is to rapidly translate new technologies in advanced manufacturing from the laboratory back to the factory floor,” Lohr said.
CCAM brings different industrial sectors together through a common research theme in two primary areas: surface engineering and manufacturing systems. Although the connection of those primary areas may not be obvious at first, according to Lohr, more than half of the projects crossover.
One crossover example of generic research, when companies pull their financial support and ideas together, is a project that looks at media blasting of a surface to prepare it to receive a coating. On the manufacturing systems side, they seek to understand how to characterize the coating for optimal performance using modeling and simulation and sensor technology.
From that generic research, CCAM develops a research program and projects of interest across the board. CCAM provides the funding, and owns the results.
There is also an option for Directed Research, when a specific company or a collaboration of companies maintains ownership of the results.
CCAM is contemplating adding a third option for a government research organization such as NASA.
The idea is that members come in at an appropriate level for what they can afford with three “tiers” of members to choose from. Minus payment, potential members can provide CCAM with equipment for the facility. They receive a seat at the table with all of the companies who are defining the next generation of products.
Members populate boards and councils that are structured to maximize interaction, define the best projects, and to make sure that CCAM has the appropriate resources to complete them.
According to Lohr, CCAM spreads the cost risk. And with access to the right people and the right technology, they are able to deliver a cost-effective, rapid-to-market model to their partners.
For more than a year, CCAM and NASA Langley have engaged in a conversation that Lohr hopes will lead to a membership.
“My vision is, as I look at the capability that you have here, the facilities, the equipment, and the amazing amount of human talent that is here, and the focus that we both have — so much of that focus in the aerospace sector to start with — it seems logical that you all should be a member of CCAM,” Lohr said. “We would have access to your equipment that we don’t need to invest in, and there are opportunities for you.
“We envision a government entity category that would involve visiting scientists, it might involve us doing work for you, or us outsourcing work to be done by you. It expands us into another dimension.”
Based on several visits that Lohr has made to NASA Langley, he sees a clear fit. NASA Langley has capabilities that CCAM and its partnering universities do not have. In part, his job is to build research capabilities without any gaps, and he sees NASA Langley filling in some of those gaps.
“We have a tremendous opportunity there, and we hope to do something with that,” Lohr said. “We’re advancing the ball as fast as we can.”
David Dress and Ray Turcotte from NASA Langley recently visited CCAM. They were both impressed with the facility and the concept.
“CCAM takes advantage of pooling resources to achieve common goals,” Dress said. “It adds a level of structure to collaboration that leverages skills from industry, academia and government to infuse new or advanced technologies into mainstream manufacturing.”
Dress envisions researchers traveling between the centers, sharing expertise and equipment, and pursuing common aerospace manufacturing goals.
At this point, the center is considering a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement with CCAM as a starting point in a partnership.
Within five years, Lohr intends to have 50 to 60 scientists working with CCAM, and 30 industrial members from its current 14. He also hopes to grow 30 to 35 internship opportunities from the current four. Within that time, he expects the institution to do $15 to $20 million dollars worth of specialized research in advanced manufacturing.
Currently, CCAM has 12 areas in which they focus their investments. Some of those areas include surface characterization, machining, additive manufacturing and non-destructive evaluation.
With an increase in membership, which could introduce new industry sectors, Lohr expects that list of areas will grow to 15 to 18 areas, with the depth of those areas also expanding.
And one day, Lohr hopes to look out through the CCAM facility to a complete research campus that bridges the gap between fundamental research typically performed at universities and product development routinely performed by companies.
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WASHINGTON — Business leaders, space enthusiasts, students and the public are invited to attend NASA Technology Days. The free, three-day public technology showcase will take place at the Cleveland
Public Auditorium and Conference Center Nov. 28-30. Participants from industry, academia and the U.S. Government will discuss strategy development, partnerships and methods to foster technology transfer and innovation.
The showcase will feature NASA-funded technologies available for transfer to the aerospace, advanced-energy, automotive, innovative manufacturing and human-health industries. The venue will provide opportunities for networking, business development and forging new relationships, including dialogue with NASA technology program leadership.
NASA officials will discuss the agency’s upcoming technology initiatives, technology transfer and strategic partnerships. NASA centers also will provide exhibits and information on how businesses can partner with the agency for technology development, transfer and innovation. Attendees also can learn about leading technologies contributing to American economic growth and innovation.
NASA Technology Days is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, visit:
Journalists registering to attend should list their news organization under “affiliation.” Reporters seeking interviews with NASA or other showcase participants should contact Katherine Martin at email@example.com or 216-433-2406.
For more information about NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist and the agency’s Space Technology Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/oct
As part of the grand opening activities for Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA is presenting SpaceFest, a six-day exhibit at the California Science Center at Exposition Park in Los Angeles continuing through Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012.
NASA’s SpaceFest is free to the public and includes three dozen exhibits, displays, and educational demonstrations honoring aeronautics and space exploration past, present, and future. Visitors to SpaceFest will learn about current NASA research missions, future space travel, and NASA involvement in enhancing aeronautics. The event also provides an opportunity for guests to meet and hear current and former astronauts speaking about their experiences.
SpaceFest activities and booths are in the Annenberg Building just east of the park’s rose garden and a short walk from the center’s main building and the Endeavour exhibit in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center Pavilion. Tickets are not required for SpaceFest.
Astronauts are sharing stories of their experiences daily in the Donald P. Loker Conference Center in the science center¹s main building. Free, timed tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the NASA information booth near the science center’s main box office.
SpaceFest is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday, Nov. 2 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4.
Astronaut presentations will take place through Friday at 10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. with school groups given first preference. Remaining tickets are distributed at the NASA information booth. Astronaut presentations on Saturday are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Space Shuttle Endeavour Exhibition viewing times in the center’s nearby Samuel Oschin Pavilion are from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Although admission to the Endeavour exhibit is free, visitors must obtain tickets from the California Science Center. Specific-time reserved tickets are recommended for a fee of $3 for non-members and $2 for members of the science center who reserve online at www.californiasciencecenter.org.
Parking will be limited on Saturday due to the USC-Oregon football game in the adjoining Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Guests may wish to park at the Staples Center and take public transportation to the science center.
The California Science Center is located at 700 Exposition Park Drive in Exposition Park, Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street just south of downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Samuel Oschin Pavilion housing Endeavour is immediately west of the center’s main building adjacent to the south lawn area. The Annenberg building is located on Kinsey Drive adjacent to the science center’s main complex, east of the park’s rose garden.
2012-2013 Game Changing Engineering Design Challenge
NASA invites college student teams to enter the 2013 Game Changing Engineering Design Challenge. Student teams are asked to design a thermal control system for a manned space station in low lunar orbit. Designs must accommodate a six-person crew, maintain acceptable temperatures for avionics components, and provide a healthy environment for the crew. Multidisciplinary teams are encouraged.
The contest is open to student teams from post-secondary institutions in the United States or its territories. This category includes universities, colleges, trade schools, community colleges, professional schools, etc.
Finalists will be invited to present their work to NASA engineers and tour a NASA center.
A notice of intent is due Jan. 15, 2013. Final entries are due on April 29, 2013.
For more information and a complete list of rules, visit http://spacetech.larc.nasa.gov.
Steve Gaddis runs the newly created Game Changing Technology Development Program Office. Gaddis leads the program’s efforts to develop innovative technologies that will revolutionize space exploration.
NASA Tech Briefs:What are we talking about when we say “Game Changing Technology Development?”
Steve Gaddis: That’s a question that we get asked a lot. The program is one of ten programs within OCT, the Office of the Chief Technologist. In OCT, they have the Space Technology Program (STP), which is being managed by Mike Gazarik and James Reuther.
When we say “Game Changing Technology,” we’re looking for orders-of-magnitude impact in technology development. We’re looking for cross-cutting infusion technologies that can be used in more than one place. We’re looking for transformative technologies. We’re looking for aggressive schedules and short development cycles (two or three years); fifty percent improvement in performance; and fifty percent or more reduction in manufacturing costs or lead times.
We’re also trying to revolutionize the way we do business at NASA. A lot of times it takes several years to get something rolling at NASA. We want to be able to say, “This one’s not panning out. It’s not meeting the metrics,” so we pull the plug, if you will, and take that money and reinvest into another “new start.”
All of these align with agency priorities or any agency partners. We want to have a streamlined business model. We want to have accountability through what we call Continuation Reviews. Periodically through the year, the program steps in with our principal investigator, and we see: Are we really in the direction we want to go? Is the project making adequate progress? Is the technology maturation happening? So we have the ability to make those decisions somewhat quickly. And as you might suspect, we can have some breakthroughs in two or three years and have agreements with projects such as the Orion Capsule or the Space Launch System (SLS), or other government agencies like Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to have onramps into some of their systems. In essence, we want to investigate approaches to revolutionizing space exploration.
NTB: You mentioned “pulling the plug.” What are the criteria for pulling the plug, or deciding that a project has run its course?
Gaddis: We’re a high risk/high payoff program. We come in with a pretty tall order. Someone says, “Hey, we can do this in two years. Here are the performance metrics and the key performance parameters. And here are the actual thresholds that we’re trying to meet.” So we’re monitoring progress.
Each one of our activities has an overseer, somebody we call the GCD [Game Changing Development] principal investigator (PI). It’s very analogous to a DARPA PM [Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Project Manager]. And this PI is monitoring the progress, and the certain Continuous Reviews. They step in and get the level of insight into that activity. They have to make a technological, strategic call, or weigh in on some of the programmatics. If these folks are on track to meeting their technical objectives, then we allow them to continue. If it looks like they’re just not going to get there, there’s no reason to say, “Ok, for the next two years, we’re going to let this run out.” We do an orderly shutdown of a month or so. All the participants understand that this is the governance model that we’re operating in. So we take those funds, and we already have a stack of potential “new start” activities that need investment.
A lot of times, with NASA, we let [projects] run four or five years, and there are termination liabilities, and it could take a long time to get out of something. That is not what the model is for the Game Changing Program.
NTB: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as leader in this office?
Gaddis: Currently, like any other NASA program, we go through the planning and program budget execution cycles. We meet to see what the technology horizon might look like, and what the future investments are, and we see the investments we’ve already made, and what their continuing needs might be.
We’re developing the portfolio for the program, so on a day-to-day basis, I’m meeting with these GCD PIs, and we’re talking about technology. We’re talking about new ideas. We’re talking about meeting with other organizations and how those meetings went with NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], and AFRL, and DARPA, and DOE [Department of Energy]. We have a lot of collaborative-type discussions and brainstorming sessions. We have a lot of reviews on how the projects are doing. We monitor those very closely on a monthly basis. We report to NASA headquarters on a quarterly basis, and we have a very large end of the year program review.
We currently have 7 PIs, and their technology expertise is quite a broad spectrum, from composites, nanotechnology, power systems, solar arrays, electric propulsion, manufacturing, and additive manufacture particularly. We’re looking at x-ray navigation, optical communication, and next-generation high-speed computing. We currently have about 30-something projects in the works that are fully funded. Two of those were not meeting their metrics, so we’ve pulled the plug on those and reinvested the funds. Right now, it’s looking very well and all running according to planned.
NTB: What do you think space flights of the future will look like? What kinds of new approaches do you think we’ll see?
Gaddis: Some of the new ideas that we’re currently working on, and some of those that are in the “new start” hopper, if you will, are using composite cryogenic tanks that will reduce the weight by 50 percent for some system like the SLS. We’re also looking at power-beaming technology: having a ground infrastructure with a large laser that would shoot a high-energy beam to a capsule that could go to low-Earth orbit. We’re also looking at cheap ways to get to low-Earth orbit, and put large structures together in a cheap fashion. We’re looking to build some of that hardware in orbit, with additive manufacturing: Build what you need, where you need it. We’re looking at cryogenic propellant, depots, and lots of different architectures of human spaceflight, robotic investigations, and explorations. The field is wide open.
NTB: Is there a challenge there with such a wide open field of technologies, in determining needs and prioritizing different projects?
Gaddis: We struggle with some of those, but it’s a good kind of struggle. Always, when you have a lot innovative people, and our country is full of such smart individuals, it’s difficult to determine what we can invest in, and when we should invest in it. Is it the right time for it? Does it fit well with the current agency priorities? For some technologies, it’s just not their time, but they’re still worthy of investment. Someone else will just have to make the investment. It is a struggle for us to rank these different technologies and to help prioritize them. We’d like to just be able to fund them all.
NTB: What are the start-to-finish steps when you’re bringing a Game Changing Technology into the fold? I imagine it starts with ground testing and other processes?
Gaddis: Yes there is, and what we like to look at is a technology that has a technology-readiness level of around 3, which means it’s not just an idea, but there’s some proof in the pudding, if you’ll let me say it that way: There’s been a lot of benchwork, there’s been some analysis, there’s been peer review, it looks like it has sound physics, and it looks like there has been some sort of subscale demonstration that proves that the technology is viable and feasible.
As DARPA has DARPA PMs, we have GCD PIs. The front door for technology investment is our PIs. You can go to our technical website: gameon.nasa.gov. You can see which PI and technology focus might lend to your needs. You begin a dialogue with them, have several discussions, and look at data. If a PI decides that this is something that’s worthy of consideration, and it’s the right time for consideration, and it fits within our portfolio and our priorities, this PI would then bring a “new start” proposal to our board, and the board would review it. The board has expertise from across the agency. It has the program leadership and headquarters leadership as well. There’s several of us that review these potential “new starts.” We look at certain criteria: Is it really game changing? Why should we invest in this now? What are they trying to do that’s different than what’s been done in the past? How much is it going to cost? What difference will it make if we succeed?
One of the major questions that we ask is: Can it transition? Is there some end-item customer that would be interested in this technology within NASA or another federal agency? We don’t go forward, unless there’s somebody interested in using this. Then, we get some sort of formal agreement with this potential customer that if we meet these specifications, they’ll take that design and go forward with it. That’s the “new start.” It gets approved. It gets off and running in a formulation of normally 6-12 months, and if they meet their performance metrics during formulation, there will be a review to let it go into implementation, which could be 2-3 years, working very closely with the customer and headquarters for approval. We have these continuation reviews, and the PI monitors those, and hopefully the end of the story is that they have this formal agreement with the customer, that they meet all the metrics, and we do a technology infusion, we do a hand-off, and some other NASA directorate or program like TDM, (Technology Demonstration Missions), Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), or Science Mission Directorate (SMD), takes it on, and you see the technology was developed and used, and doesn’t go on a shelf somewhere.
NTB: Which one of these Game-Changing Technologies are ready to go, and we’re ready to see in action?
Gaddis: There are hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, and we have a demonstration that’s going to be out of Wallops [Flight Facility] this month [July, at the time of this interview]. It’s going to be suborbital, but we’re demonstrating this inflation technology and this certain material that can be used to do some sort of aerodynamic decelerations on a planet with atmospheres, say Mars or maybe Venus.
We’re also within about 8 months of demonstrating a 5.5-meter composite cryogenic tank. Most of these tanks, for folks that are in that field, know that a tank of that size would have to be cured in a huge autoclave. We’re doing all this work out of autoclave. It’ll be a huge impact not only for NASA, but for even companies like Boeing, SpaceX, or Orbital.
We’re also developing legs for Robonaut on ISS. Most folks know that Robonaut is up on [the International Space] Station, and Robonaut did some sign language a couple months ago, back down to kids here on Earth. But Robonaut needs its legs, and we should have those legs probably within the next 12 months. Those are some activities that are near-term for Game Changing.
NTB: You mentioned Airbus and Boeing. How important is private industry to making this all happen?
Gaddis: We want to partner with private industry. In the commercial space, we’re looking at how a lot of our technologies can help them. It’s very important to us that the work that we’re doing can be disseminated to all sectors in the aerospace field. It’s part of the vision of our chief technologist, Mason Peck, that we properly disseminate our findings so that folks in the aerospace field – whether it’s a Lockheed or a Boeing or a SpaceX or a Sierra Nevada, or some smaller corporation that’s interested in getting into the field – can use this information and apply it to what they have going on in their companies. We talk to private industry on a regular basis, and we team up with them wherever it makes sense. A lot of times they’ll use their own internal research and development funds, and we have a cost-share activity with them. I think it would be safe to say that we work very closely with industry.
NTB: To dig into your bio a bit: You were originally the deputy chief of the Launch Abort System.
Gaddis: I spent a year at Headquarters being the program executive in OCT for Game Changing. Before that, I spent five years being the deputy chief of the Launch Abort System within the Orion project, the former Constellation Program, and we had a major success on May 6 several years ago with the Pad Abort 1 [Orion Test]. We demonstrated a new launch abort system. It was picture perfect and worked just like it should.
Before that, I was working on station to develop a couple of modules, as program manager for developments and modules, for Station. I worked probably 10 years of my career on developing advanced technologies for the space shuttle main engines, and I did some advanced technology work with Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO), and I was the Marshall lead for that. I’ve had a lot of fun in my career, but I have to say, I’m having a lot of fun right now, doing all this technology work.
NTB: Are there any kinds of adjustments that you’ve had to make in this new role?
Gaddis: Yeah, but the adjustments are not bad. I came from human spaceflight, where I spent the majority of my career, so I haven’t worked very closely with aeronautics or the science mission directorate, or even lower-tier technology development. With human spaceflight, we still do some technology development, but it’s much closer to maturation for our own purposes. Some of the adjustments: I work very closely with researchers and scientists, and chief technologists across the agency and other government agencies. They’re very creative individuals, and sometimes they push against much needed processes, but it’s a healthy tension to get things done. It hasn’t been negative. I’ve perceived it all as very positive. It’s been a great learning experience for me.
NTB: Are there any other challenges in this role, and with Game Changing technologies?
Gaddis: Two challenges jump out. One, the program’s not very old, and we’ve been chartered to do things differently, to be “game changing,” if you will: to be DARPA-like, some folks have said. What they really asked us to do was to be the premier program or organization within OCT or within the agency to rapidly advance technology from concept to demonstration.
We had to change our leadership model, our governance model, to try to impact how we do business. It’s been a challenge. NASA has a culture, and each one of the centers have somewhat of their own unique cultures, and it’s been a challenge trying to convince folks that “Hey, we don’t have to have a ten year investment plan. We can do these things in short development cycles and focus on critical technologies.” It’s been a challenge to convince some folks to do that, but I would say that the folks at NASA want to do the right thing, and they want to do great work that has an impact, so folks have gotten on board. We’ve still got a challenge ahead of us to convince not only our key stakeholders, but our field centers who are doing the hands on work.
The next challenge is probably neck and neck with that one: there’s never enough funding to support all of the good work, and it’s a difficult task to prioritize the work. You want to do most of it, if not all of it. It’s hard to turn folks down. Lots of smart people are just coming out of the woodwork with great ideas, inside and outside the agency. We have to find some way to prioritize them and fund what we can with the limited budget that we have.
NTB: What is your favorite part of the job?
Gaddis: My favorite part of the job is working with a vast group of people. The people really are the top asset that NASA has. We have lots of creative people, and they just want opportunities. I enjoy working with the industry and the university folks, the headquarters, and the field centers. I enjoy working with the researchers, the scientists, and the technologists, and it gives me great pleasure to fund a lot of the work that they’re doing, and see what we would call true game-changing technologies come out of the endeavor.
When Karen Jackson, Virginia’s deputy secretary of technology, visits NASA’s Langley Research Center, there is always a sense of familiarity. Her mom worked at the center for 32 years and Jackson spent much of her childhood in and around Langley.
“It’s very exciting to come back in my new role, to help transfer technology to industry and universities and to develop partnerships,” Jackson said at NASA Langley’s 95th Anniversary VIP Day on Thursday. “I want to help build bridges to make NASA more accessible, and make them a partner for what we are trying to do in the Commonwealth.”
Jackson, who also serves on the Governor’s MODSIM Panel, was excited to take a first glimpse at some of the technology that NASA has to offer.
Like minds, such as Michele DeWitt, economic development director for Williamsburg, and James Noel, Jr., economic development director for York County, were also looking forward to building some bridges.
“It’s all about trying to see the technology commercialize, and then to take that technology to businesses as a potential asset,” Noel said.
Both DeWitt and Noel spoke of the importance of NASA Incubator Programs, which are designed to nurture new and emerging businesses with the potential to incorporate technology developed by NASA.
“It’s about taking the technology that is happening here, transferring it, and expanding it throughout the region,” DeWitt said.
More than 100 guests including representatives from local, regional, state and federal government, industry representatives, and colleagues from other NASA centers, broke into three separate tour groups and visited facilities that would be of most interest to them.
“Fifty percent of the work comes in the door, and fifty percent of the work goes back out the door,” said Stewart Harris, Director of Engineering, as groups arrived to Langley’s Advanced Manufacturing facility.
In one area of the facility, Tom Burns held up a test rig and explained that the manufacturing process, called Selective Laser Melting (SLM) Sinterstation, provided the rig a strength of 16,000 pounds per square inch. In another area, Mike Powers talked about the glass bead heat ablasion technique, which was created at NASA Langley about a year ago. It has been used on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, HIAD (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator) and the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).
Bill Seufzer shared a story about a request he received from an aerospace company to build a titanium part. Rather than starting with the 400-pound build of titanium that they provided him, he used NASA Langley’s Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) technology to build up the part from a plate. He built the piece using 23 pounds of material, which saved 233 pounds of material and costs. And instead of the process taking 18 months, it only took him one day, he explained.
Tim Osowski, a scientist from Orbital Sciences Corp. who is already working with the center through a Space Act Agreement to develop the concept for a High Energy Atmospheric Reentry Test (HEART), which falls under the broader HIAD project at Langley, remained tuned in for new opportunities.
As guests toured the 14 x 22 Subsonic Tunnel they learned about testing capabilities and specialized test techniques. Langley’s wind tunnels have conducted projects for NASA, industry, the Department of Defense and academic partners within the research and development communities.
From Langley’s Science Directorate tours, guests learned about SAGE III and Applied Sciences such as air quality, renewable energy and aviation weather. Others who had a particular interest in the sciences, like representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), learned about the CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Reractivity Observatory) Calibration Demonstration System (CDS), CAPABLE (Chemistry and Physics Atmospheric Boundary Layer Experiment) and the Atmospheric Science Data Center.
For all, the day ended with a splash as the Orion test capsule was dropped into the water basin at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. The test impact conditions simulated all parachutes being deployed with high impact pitch angle of 43 degrees, no roll, with 27.8 miles per hour vertical and 38.8 miles per hour horizontal velocities.
“The test was a high velocity case at the maximum design impact angle representing worse case conditions for an abort scenario in rough seas,” Robin Hardy, an aerospace engineer, explained to the group.
As VIP guests stood at a safe distance from the basin, they were reminded that bridges could be built from both sides.
“Langley has a long history of working with a diverse network of partners from start-up firms to academia, to large corporations and other government agencies,” said Center Director Lesa Roe. “We believe that our future depends on these collaborative solutions, and today is an opportunity for all of us to explore challenges and how we might work together to solve them.”
Lisa Gibson and her daughter Cassidy made the 11-hour trip from Illinois to NASA’s Langley Research Center for the 95th Anniversary Open House. Cassidy, an 8th grader who wants to be an astrophysicists when she gets older, wanted to meet an astronaut.
“One day, I’d like to discover something that has never been discovered before,” Cassidy said.
“And then she’ll name it after her mom,” Lisa followed up jokingly.
Peggy and Jobe Metts traveled from North Carolina to expose their children to some of NASA’s work and get them excited about science. Peggy’s brother and sister-in-law, Ran and Karen Cabell work at NASA Langley.
While working as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Navy, Fred Lassen was running a half-marathon with Jerry Linenger when Linenger decided that he wanted to become an astronaut. Decades later, Lassen, who now runs a private practice, took advantage of a behind-the-scenes look at NASA Langley.
“It’s not often that you can come here and see everything that’s happening first-hand,” Lassen said.
The last time NASA’s Langley Research Center was opened to the public was in 2007 for the 90th Anniversary. And the next opportunity may not be until 2017, for the 100th anniversary.
About 10,000 people found a reason to attend the free event on Saturday. Foot traffic covered the sidewalks, with guests having the option of 21 tour stops, and dozens of hands-on activities and exhibits.
Hundreds waited their turn to meet Astronaut Anna Fisher, the first mom in space.
“With the way technology is progressing, who can imagine what will happen in the next 100 years?” Fisher said. “It’s an exciting time to be a young person.”
Guests of all ages looked attentive as they controlled robots built by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) participants, and programmed Lego Mindstorms, Bee-Bots and RoamerBots. Many built their own racecar and attempted to land safely on mars with NASA’s Mars Rover Landing game for Xbox. They enjoyed interactive science shows about physics and aerospace and took a trip through the Journey to Tomorrow trailer.
Employees took pride in their work as they explained aspects of the unique capabilities that their facility provides the agency. Visitors toured a high-speed wind tunnel, the 8-Foot High Temperature Tunnel and a low-speed tunnel, the 14-by-22-Foot Subsonic Tunnel. They also toured the world’s largest pressurized cryogenic wind tunnel, the National Transonic Facility (NTF).
At the 14-by-22, Zach, a fourth grader from Suffolk measured the temperature and pressure of his hand before traveling to the second floor, where he saw a future transport configuration model which was set in place for future noise measurements.
At other facilities, guests learned about spacecraft entry heating, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electromagnetics waves, materials and structures, manufacturing and fabrication, and they learned about NASA’s Digital Learning Network, which connects students and educators with NASA education specialists and experts for real-time interaction.
Guests learned that Langley’s Science Directorate is home to world-renowned researchers and that their data is used to help solve some of Earth’s biggest problems. In the afternoon, hundreds attended a demonstration drop test of Orion at the water basin at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility.
Guests were also able to visit some of the center’s historic landmarks, such as the Gemini Rendezvous Docking Simulator used by Gemini and Apollo astronauts to practice docking space capsules with other vessels, which is still suspended from Langley’s Flight Research Hangar bay ceiling.
Such landmarks have made Langley famous in the 95 years since its inception as the nation’s first civilian aeronautics research lab in 1917, when America’s space program was born.
The doors first opened as Langley Field 95 years ago with a staff of 11, as the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics. Today, about 3,400 civil service and contract employees at NASA’s Langley Research Center work across all of NASA’s mission areas to help revolutionize aviation; expand knowledge of climate change; and extend human presence in space with the hopes of creating a better future for all of humankind.
“When you leave today, I hope you have a sense of pride in the contributions made by NASA, and that you find yourself curious, excited and inspired about the great things that lie ahead,” said Center Director Lesa Roe.
After a half century of using radio to track and communicate with everything from the first lunar Rangers to the Voyager probes now crossing into interstellar space, NASA is moving its $2 billion Deep Space Network (DSN) firmly into the optical and x-ray spectrums.
Next year, NASA is to launch a demonstration mission to test optical laser communications in conjunction with the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) mission to the moon. And an optical mission to test laser relay capabilities from earth geosynchronous (GEO) orbit will soon follow.
“The DSN is operating almost flawlessly, doing everything we ask,” said Leslie Deutsch, chief technologist of NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s Interplanetary Network Directorate. “There have been no instances of the DSN causing a space mission to be lost, but there have been several instances of DSN being used to save missions.”
Using three ground complexes at Goldstone, California; Canberra, Australia and Madrid, Spain, DSN is tracking some 35 spacecraft with a success rate of better than 98 percent.
But from time to time NASA does use other radio telescopes. Deutsch notes that when the Mars Science Lab recently landed, as a backup capability the DSN used the Parkes Radio Observatory in Australia to look at its signal during entry, descent and landing.
“We do have bottlenecks where instruments at Mars could bring back more data if we had a larger communications pipeline,” said Deutsch.
Wherever there’s a lot of exploration activity, Deutsch says, it also may make sense to create a GPS-like capability to help surface navigation. Deutsch notes that a Mars GPS capability is still being studied and is a possibility within a couple of decades.
Meanwhile, NASA is proceeding with laser communications tests. The LLCD (Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration) launches on LADEE in January of next year and will demonstrate a laser downlink rate of 622 megabytes from the moon.
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration Project (LCRD) will follow with launch in late 2017 on a commercial Space Systems Loral spacecraft. From GEO, LCRD will enable two years of continuous high data rate optical communications tests.
LCRD will use half watt lasers; about the power of a current DVD burner. But pushing that figure up to a mere 5 watts would allow LCRD technology to have downlink speeds of 1 gigabyte per second and uplink speeds of 100 megabytes per second out to near earth distances. That’s some 10 to 100 times faster than current DSN radio frequency rates.
“We should have a GEO relay with optical capability by 2022,” said says David Israel, the space communications manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Although Israel says that NASA will use an “eye-safe” wavelength and ensure that their lasers never cross paths of an aircraft or satellite, he notes that optical communications’ biggest technical challenge are mere clouds.
So, when looking to locate ground-based optical receivers, why not just go to areas already proven to provide clear skies?
“Great viewing on top of some isolated mountain is perfect for astronomy,” said Israel. “But if you had a high data rate coming down to that location then there might not be an [efficient] way to get that data off the mountain.”
Thus, one challenge for ground-based optical communications telescopes, would be to strike a balance between optimal “seeing” and use of an existing data communications infrastructure needed to quickly ferry incoming data back to far-flung researchers.
NASA is also developing a natural astrophysical x-ray source as a jumping off point for a space-based navigation system that would function as a solar system-wide GPS. The idea is to use pulsars, rapidly spinning neutron stars that often emit x-rays on millisecond timescales to precisely determine a spacecraft’s course and position.
An XNAV system, says Keith Gendreau, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, would need an x-ray detector with a pointing capability in order to observe several pulsars over time.
“Pulsars produce regular pulses that rival atomic clocks on timescales of months to years,” said Gendreau. “In the GPS constellation, there are a number of atomic clocks that broadcast time. GPS receivers receive these transmissions from multiple satellites, which then work out your position. For XNAV, our clocks will be pulsars distributed on a galactic scale; enabling GPS-like navigation throughout the solar system and beyond.”
To date, outer planet navigation has used the DSN and onboard stellar background spacecraft sensors to get precise ranges. But Deutsch says XNAV could make the job of autonomous spacecraft navigation even more accurate.
XNAV would build up 3-dimensional positional data from pulsars located at different directions on the sky, says Gendreau, who notes that in addition to three pulsars that the spacecraft would use to determine its position; a fourth pulsar would provide independent time measurements.
The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is a proposed NASA pulsar timing experiment that could demonstrate XNAV by late 2016.
“By the time there are space miners heading to the asteroid belt, it’s safe to say they would be using XNAV,” said Israel.
Meanwhile, researchers at NASA Goddard are also working on x-ray communication (XCOM) using a photo-electrically driven source modulated for communication. The advantage of x-rays over laser communications is that x-ray wavelengths are even shorter and can penetrate areas blocked in the radio and optical frequencies.
Gendreau says one major advantage of X-rays over lasers is that the short wavelength allows for very tight beams and thus much less wasted energy in long distance communication.
“Very high energy x-rays could [also] penetrate the plasma shroud surrounding a re-entering capsule and provide a low data rate link to such a hypersonic vehicle,” said Gendreau. “If NICER flies, then by 2018, we could also use it as the receiver for a first XCOM space demonstration.”
What’s the Deep Space Network’s ultimate future?
Deutsch says orders of magnitude higher data rates than today; continuous DSN coverage for humans at remote locations such as the far side of the moon; and an internet-like capability extending wherever NASA sends astronauts or machines.
As for radio?
“I don’t think space radio will ever completely go away,” said Deutsch. “It’s very simple and easy.”
Skywatchers and space enthusiasts across the globe will gather Sept. 22 to celebrate “International Observe the Moon Night” – but one group in Moffett Field, Calif., will get an added thrill: the chance to watch a next-generation NASA robot being put through its paces.
NASA’s Surface Telerobotics team, part of the Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project, will help make a night under the lunar limb memorable by demonstrating how its K10 rover deploys a telescope antenna – one of a variety of tasks such sophisticated, articulate “handybots” will conduct in the future to support their human counterparts living and working in space and, someday, on other worlds.
WASHINGTON — Want to try your hand at landing an inflatable spacecraft? All you need is a smart phone, a computer or a tablet.
NASA has released a new educational computer Web game based on its Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) project. The game can be played on the Internet and Apple and Android mobile devices.
The application can be downloaded free from those mobile device stores and on NASA’s HIAD website at:
HIAD is an innovative inflatable spacecraft technology NASA is developing to allow giant cones of inner tubes stacked together to transport cargo to other planets or bring cargo back from the International Space Station.
“This game will help introduce new generations to NASA technologies that may change the way we explore other worlds,” said Mary Beth Wusk, HIAD project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “It gives players an idea of some of the engineering challenges rocket scientists face in designing spacecraft, and does it in a fun way.”
The game’s premise is an inflatable heat shield that returns cargo from the space station to Earth. As the HIAD summary puts it, “to successfully guide an inflatable spacecraft through the super heat of atmospheric reentry requires the right stuff. If you inflate too early, your shape is incorrect or your material isn’t strong enough – you burn up. And if you get all that right and miss the target the mission is a bust.”
The game offers four levels of engineering mastery and gives stars for each successful landing.
HIAD is more than just a game. It’s a real technology being tested in laboratories and in flight. A prototype HIAD launched July 23 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The successful flight test demonstrated that lightweight, yet strong inflatable structures may become a practical way to help us explore other worlds.
NASA is developing the technology as part of the Space Technology Program’s Game Changing Development Program. NASA’s Space Technology Program is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future science and exploration missions. NASA’s technology investments provide cutting-edge solutions for our nation’s future.
For more information about other NASA programs and projects, visit:
A Space Act Agreement (SAA) has been announced between Altius Space Machines and NASA’s Langely Research Center (LaRC) to develop concepts for a new series of compactly-stowable, long-reach spacecraft robotic manipulators. The agreement will allow for Altius and NASA to jointly develop a new and novel Compactly Stowable Manipulator (CSM) system.
Altius Space Machines:
Altius Space Machines is a space technology company, based in Louisville, Colorado, founded with the goal of reducing the barriers to space commerce. The company has already hit the ground running, wining first place in the 2011 NewSpace Business Plan Competition in Silicon Valley.
Altius is known in the space community for its work in developing rendezvous and docking solutions using its Sticky Boom non-cooperative capture technology, for space stations and propellant depots, manned spaceflight, satellite servicing, and other applications.
The company recently announced it had signed a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to provide engineering services as part of the DARPA Phoenix Program.
That contract calls for Altius to develop and integrate a storable tubular arm (STEM) for use as a platform for situational awareness cameras and lights, and as a tool to reduce unwanted vibrations on parts of the target spacecraft caused during the component removal and repurposing operation.
The SAA with NASA LaRC relates to the development of concepts for compactly-stowable, long-reach spacecraft robotic manipulators, or robotic arms as they are commonly known.
Some of the most famous robotic manipulators were involved with the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), with the SRMS (Shuttle Remote Manipulator System) debuting with Columbia on her STS-2 mission at the end of 1981.
The 50 foot boom was used in a variety of modes, from grappling payloads on orbit, to handing over cargo from the orbiter’s cargo bay.
Once the International Space Station begin its assembly phase, the orbital outpost gained its own robotic arm, known as the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) or Canadarm2. Somewhat larger than the Shuttle version, the SSRMS incorporates many advanced features, including the ability to self relocate.
It was soon joined by Dextre, a multi-capable Canadian robot that resides on the end of the SSRMS during operations, along with smaller robotic hardware on the Japanese section of the Station.
The Shuttle also gained a second arm, a post-Columbia improvement called the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), which was used – on the end of the SRMS – to provide the additional reach to manuever a sensor suite over critical parts of the orbiter’s Thermal Protection System (TPS) in order to gain data and photography of the heatshield’s health.
Due to the growing size – and smaller clearances – of the Station and the modules riding uphill, NASA managers did evaluate a smaller RMS known as the “Miniboom”. However, that was cancelled in favor of an additional OBSS.
Now, a new generation of booms are being developed by Altius, with the non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA LaRC specific to the Compactly Stowable Manipulator (CSM).
“As the name suggests, the CSM will have a very small packaging volume, yet be capable of highly-dexterous, long-reach operations,” noted Altius in a media release on Tuesday.
“When combined with a non-cooperative payload capture technology, the CSM would also enable satellite servicing, small-package delivery/return, and rendezvous/capture of nanosat-scale free flyers or sample return canisters.”
Satellite servicing has already begun testingvia NASA’s Robotic Refuelling Mission (RRM) experiments – involving Dextre – on the ISS. And while no discussions with the ISS program office have taken place yet, Altius believes that their technology has the potential to add important new capabilities to the Station.
“Research performed at orbital facilities such as the International Space Station (ISS) would be dramatically more agile and competitive if there were a means for providing small-package payload delivery and sample return on a just-in-time basis,” the company added.
“A long-reach manipulator system, such as the system that will be investigated under this SAA, would be capable of capturing or releasing small vehicles (both cooperatively and non-cooperatively) at a safe distance from ISS. As a result, these small vehicles would not be required to station-keep relative to ISS, enabling them to deliver and return payloads safely and affordably by providing just-in-time payload transport services.”
CSM is a multi-talented technology, that also addresses the needs of future spacecraft, vehicles that are currently without defined plans for RMS capabilities that were enjoyed by spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle.
“Commercial crew and cargo transportation vehicles and NASA exploration vehicles, such as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), would accrue significant benefits if a robotic arm with performance capabilities similar to the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), but having much higher packaging efficiency, could be developed to fit on such vehicles,” added the Altius release.
“Such an extendable/retractable RMS-class manipulator would enable inspection and repair of the vehicle windward and backshell TPS on missions to destinations other than the ISS and would additionally assist in EVA activities.”
Space manipulator development is performed at the Langley Research Center for the Game Changing Division of the NASA Office of Chief Technologist under the Human Robotics Systems Project. With Altius now onboard, the parties will benefit from the commercial requirements and systems engineering input provided by Altius, which will link very long-reach tendon-actuated manipulator technology development to commercial space missions.
Altius claims these new mission concepts and the technology developed under this SAA have the potential to open up completely new lines of commercial-space operations in payload handling, servicing, repair, and assembly.
“Together, Altius and NASA Langley Research Center will further develop and refine the mission requirements, concepts, and technologies that will make these new and valuable commercial payload delivery/return missions viable.”
(Images via Altius Space Machines, NASA, MDA and L2).
On July 23, 2012, the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment-3 (IRVE-3) successfully launched the HIAD system from a sounding rocket at 7:01 a.m. from the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.The launch was the third in a series of suborbital flight tests to provide foundational data for NASA’s efforts to develop and integrate HIAD technology into future missions. Technicians vacuum packed the uninflated, three meter diameter cone of high-tech inner tubes into a 0.5 meter diameter, three-stage Black Brant XI sounding rocket.
During the flight test, an on-board inflation system (similar to air tanks used by scuba divers) pumped the inner tubes full of nitrogen, stretching a thermal blanket over them to create a heat shield or aeroshell. That heat shield protected a payload that consisted of four segments including the inflation system, steering mechanisms, telemetry equipment and camera gear.
The rocket took about six minutes to climb approximately 450km (280 miles) into the skies over the Atlantic Ocean. The 308 kg/680 pound IRVE-3 separated from the rocket, traveled at Mach 10, experienced peak loads of about 20 g’s and heating of 15 W/cm2, with its heat shield temperature reaching up to 400°C (750°F) as it returned to Earth.
Four video cameras transmitted images to the Wallops control room to confirm that the IRVE-3 successfully inflated, reconfigured to generate lift prior to atmospheric entry, and demonstrated re-entry steering capability. The inflated heat shield and payload plummeted back through Earth’s atmosphere, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean about 20 minutes after launch and 560 kilometers (350 miles) down range from Wallops.
Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. have spent the last three years preparing for the test of this Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator. Researchers and technicians studied designs, assessed materials in laboratories and wind tunnels and subjected hardware to thermal and pressure loads beyond what it should face in flight.
NASA began researchinginflatable spacecraft because rigid spacecraft structures are limited by the size of the launch vehicle shroud. This, in turn, limits the size of the payload that can be carried through planetary atmospheres. NASA is investigating HIAD technology as a potential enabler for delivering larger mass on future missions, or accessing higher elevations on Mars. IRVE-3 is one of the Space Technology Program’s many research efforts to develop new technologies to advance space travel and open up new capacity for exploration within both scientific and human missions.
Game Changing Development Program Director Steve Gaddis and IRVE-3 Project Manager Mary Beth Wusk welcomed 28 congressional staffers from Washington D.C., on Thursday, Aug. 23. Wusk gave an overview of the recent success of the Inflatable Re-Entry Vehicle Experiment 3 (IRVE-3) that launched from NASA’s Wallops Space Flight Facility in July. The IRVE-3 heat shield technology could change the way we explore other worlds by accommodating larger payloads allowing for delivery of more science instruments and tools for exploration.
Chuck Taylor, principal investigator with NASA’s Game Changing Development Program Office, talks solar rays with Federal News Radio 1500 am
On Aug. 3, NASA Langley took part in the first-ever multi-center NASA Social in support of the Mars Science Laboratory Landing. NASA Langley hosted 30 social media users who got a behind-the-scenes tour of the center. The Game Changing Development Program Office participated in the NASA Social, introducing the group to what NASA is doing for future space technology. Program Director Steve Gaddis gave an overview of Game Changing and principal investigator Neil Cheatwood spoke about HIAD and the recent IRVE-3 launch. In this picture, members of the NASA Social pose with Cheatwood.
Mission success for the MSL Entry, Descent, & Landing Instrument (MEDLI) Suite. When the Curiosity rover touched down on the red planet Aug. 6 at 12:32 p.m. CDT, NASA MEDLI researchers were already cheering. The instrumentation payload, carried in the entry vehicle’s heatshield, included an intricate array of sophisticated engineering sensors designed to measure heat, pressure and other conditions impacting the heatshield during atmospheric entry and descent. The shield is jettisoned prior to landing.
The MEDLI suite powered up successfully Aug. 5 during the Mars Science Laboratory’s approach to the red planet. About an hour before entry, descent and landing, the sensor suite’s temperature stabilized at minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit, readying MEDLI for its journey through Mars’ atmosphere. Real-time streaming data from the shield sensors was acquired through much of the vehicle’s entry and descent – barring the brief UHF-frequency communications blackout upon entry – until Curiosity deployed its parachutes and jettisoned its heatshield. The rover touched down smoothly in Gale Crater to begin its two-year primary mission.
They were part of the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) team that is working to develop an inflatable heat shield. The technology could be used to protect spacecraft when entering a planet’s atmosphere or returning here to Earth. A 64-foot, 22-inch (19.5 meters, 56 centimeters) diameter Black Brant XI sounding rocket launched the IRVE-3, encased in a nose cone, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The rocket with the inflatable on board shot 288 miles (463.5 kilometers) up and IRVE-3 and its payload were ejected into the atmosphere. The technology demonstrator inflated and fell back to Earth — cameras and temperature and pressure sensors monitoring its performance all the way down. After a total of 20 minutes — from launch to splash down — it landed in the Atlantic about 100 miles (161 kilometers) East of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
“Everything went well… like clockwork. The IRVE-3 performed just as it was supposed to,” said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “It entered Earth’s atmosphere at Mach 10, ten times the speed of sound, and successfully survived the heat and forces of the journey. Temperatures recorded were as much as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius) and the IRVE-3 experienced forces up 20 G’s.”
What makes that particularly remarkable according to engineers is that the IRVE-3 wasn’t made of metal or composite materials like most spacecraft heat shields or aeroshells — it was made of high tech fabric and inflated to create its shape and structure. The IRVE-3 looked like a 10-foot (3 meter) diameter mushroom composed of a seven giant braided Kevlar rings stacked and lashed together — then covered by a thermal blanket made up of layers of heat resistant materials.
The trip through the atmosphere provided researchers lots of data that will help them design better heat shields in the future. But they will also have the chance to study the IRVE-3 first hand. A high-speed Stiletto boat provided by the U.S. Navy was on stand by to retrieve it. Stiletto is a maritime demonstration craft operated by Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock, Combatant Craft Division, and is based out of Joint Expeditionary Base (JEB) Little Creek-Ft Story, Va.
IRVE-3 is part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Project within the Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Program. NASA Langley led the project and built two of the four segments of the IRVE-3 payload. Wallops provided its rocket expertise and built the other two payload segments. Airborne Systems in Santa Ana, Calif. provided the inflatable structure and thermal blanket.
“Today’s test is the first example of what we are going to be doing in the Space Technology Program during the coming months and years,” said James Reuther, Space Technology Program deputy director. “We are building, testing and flying the technologies required for NASA’s missions of tomorrow.”
Here are several articles/pictures of the launch:
When you think of the blistering, brutal re-entry temperatures generated by plowing through Earth’s atmosphere, using fabric doesn’t come quickly to mind.
But NASA is set to try some fabric out this Saturday (July 21), as part of a novel inflatable re-entry experiment that could find a variety of uses, both off planet and possibly in returning payloads from the International Space Station as well.
The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment III, or IRVE-3, has been years in the making for all of 20 minutes of suborbital flight. It will be rocketed to high altitude above Earth from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility near Chincoteague Island, Va., then will dive into the Atlantic Ocean.
For some, the impact of their work at NASA can be tense. Jennifer Noble, a space systems engineer, was no exception as she tried to keep things from going awry on a space station 250 miles above Earth.
Noble worked as a space flight trainer and mission controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). She taught astronauts how to work both the thermal and electrical systems on the International Space Station and then monitored those systems as a flight controller in the mission control room.
“It was a very rewarding job,” Noble said. “You were able to see your work and hard labor into fruition as the astronauts went into orbit and performed their jobs well.”
But that sense of reward also came with a great deal of responsibility. Day-to-day life in mission control is constantly full of prospective crisis management situations, never knowing if a problem will arise.
“Everyday life in mission control can be stressful, because things do fail,” Noble said. “Any day where there is not a major failure is a good day.”
After nearly seven years of training crews, and work in a control room, Noble made the personal choice to add a little more normalcy to her life.
She took a job with NASA Langley’s Game Changing Program Office, moving from Houston, the fourth largest city in America, to Virginia’s middle peninsula. Such a move might be a culture shock to some, but it was something Noble was used to.
Born to an American father and a German mother, Noble spent the majority of her youth growing up in Colorado. She also spent many summer vacations visiting family in Germany, giving her the opportunity to experience a different culture.
The opportunity not only presented itself in her travels, but also at home, where she learned to speak both German and Spanish fluently.
These early lessons sparked her passion for language and inspired Noble to study new dialects. She took four years of Russian while at NASA Johnson, to better communicate with the Russian cosmonauts who she was training in Houston.
“[Taking Russian] wasn’t a requirement, but I’ve always loved languages and Russian seemed very interesting,” Noble said.
Her study of the language proved not only interesting, but also necessary in order to easily communicate with her Russian counterparts in the space industry.
Noble has not only been able to work with different people from different nations, but also different localities. After graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder she took a job in California, and from there moved to Houston.
“Growing up in Colorado, there are two states that you don’t like the most: California and Texas,” Noble said jokingly. “But every time you get used to a new place.”
And again, she is getting used to a new place and a new job. Although she is still working within the space industry, she now goes out into the field to investigate new technologies.
Her team then takes on new technologies, developing and passing them on in order to be sent into space. Currently, she is working on next generation solar electric propulsion vehicles, a technology used to ferry humans into deep space.
Noble relishes the opportunities that NASA Langley provides her, and she hopes to become a leader within the organization. What she really enjoys, however, is the chance to step foot outside training and mission control and gain a broader understanding of NASA’s work.
Working at Langley has given Noble a new form of responsibility – one that deals with developing new technologies here on Earth.
Aerospace Advisory Council Visits NASA Langley
By: Brian Marcolini, LARSS intern
The future of aerospace and aviation hinges on two things, political support and funding. The governor’s Aerospace Advisory Council can provide both, and on Tuesday NASA’s Langley Research Center hosted the council’s quarterly meeting at the center.
Developed in 2007 after NASA advocacy, the 19-member council acts as the voice of the entire aerospace industry in Virginia. The group is composed of state politicians, aerospace industry representatives and university representatives working together for project funding and job creation.
Their primary goal is to make Virginia one of the top supporters of the aerospace industry in the country.
Tuesday was the council’s first visit to Langley and included a tour of center facilities along with its meeting. The main topics covered developments happening both at Langley and NASA Wallops, as well as goings-on in the world of aviation and aerospace.
Deputy Center Director Steve Jurczyk gave a rundown of Langley’s operations, noting the great strides made in research around the center. He also detailed the center’s revitalization project, portraying Langley’s precise 20-year plan for the future.
“The plan is completely comprehensive, covering every square foot of every building on the center,” Jurczyk said during his presentation.
Even more important than the topics covered in the meeting was the council’s tour.
“(Having the meeting at Langley) is great for the center,” Jurczyk said, “And the tour helps them finally see what they’ve been talking about in meetings for months.”
The group first traveled to the Langley hangar, where they were met by employees and Langley’s Aeronautics Academy students. There, the focus was the future of aviation, which included a presentation by the students and an overview of the In-Trail Procedures (ITP) project. The ITP research intends to reduce the separation needed between planes flying in oceanic airspace.
The highlight of the stop was a tour of the hangar floor where the group was met with exhibits illustrating the future of unmanned aerial vehicles and overviews of the students’ projects.
State Sen. Mark Herring of Fairfax and Louden Counties came away from the hangar particularly impressed.
“It is exciting to see research being done at NASA Langley today that will change the face of tomorrow,” Herring said after touring the facility.
Science Directorate team leaders Neil Cheatwood and Mary Beth Wusk then met the council in building 1250, giving them an overview of the future of space technologies produced at Langley.
Their main presentation was on the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3). Developed by Wusk and her team, IRVE-3 is an effort to prove the viability of inflatable technology to survive atmospheric entry. The inflatable spacecraft technology is scheduled to launch from Wallops later this summer.
The council also saw the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III). SAGE III is the third in a line of instruments that monitors the Earth’s atmosphere, and is scheduled to travel to the International Space Station later this year.
The council was then briefed on the status of the commercial space flight industry and its importance to both the national and state economy at the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel. After the briefing, they received a tour of the tunnel to conclude the tour.
“I’m so glad that the members of the council not from the area finally get to see NASA Langley,” state Del. John Cosgrove said in the meeting’s closing remarks. “It’s the coolest place and we want to do everything we can to support it.”
The NASA Game Changing Program is pleased to announce a senior level engineering design contest for the 2012-2013 academic year. Teams from US colleges and universities are invited to design a Thermal Control System for a Space Station in Lunar Orbit. Details about how to enter, eligibility, system requirements, due dates, and awards are posted at http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech Note: Foreign teams are not be eligible to participate this year.
But this watch-your-weight campaign centers on lightening the dry mass of launch vehicles, such as future, evolved versions of NASA’s Space Launch System—an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
As part of the Game Changing Technology Division within the Office of the Chief Technologist, work is underway on the Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort. The term “cryotank” refers to storage of super-cold fuels, such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.
Here’s the weighty dilemma:
Roughly 60 percent of the dry mass of a launch vehicle accounts for the fuel and oxidizer tanks. By using composite materials, a cryotank structure can be produced that weighs 30 percent less than aluminum—the current state-of-the-art.
NASA and its industry partners continuously strive to reduce the weight and cost of launch vehicles. The more weight shaved off a vehicle, the more payload can be carried to space, perhaps even allowing for one less engine or strap-on booster.
The Cure: Out-of-Autoclave
“Our project was one of the original projects within the Office of Chief Technologist,” explains John Vickers, NASA project manager for the Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The project centers on fabricating tanks that incorporate design features and new manufacturing processes applicable to designs up to 10 meters in diameter. These tanks could be used on future launch vehicles, in space propellant depots and Earth departure exploration vehicles.
A key to this innovative technological push, Vickers points out, is “out-of-autoclave”—a relatively new technology for composites. Out-of-autoclave curing composite manufacturing is an alternative to the traditional high pressure autoclave curing process commonly used by the aerospace industry.
While it has widespread applications in producing aircraft with the material cured in large autoclaves, using composites for aerospace is a relatively new technology. “The downside of that is that autoclaves are very expensive,” Vickers notes, and they are energy-hungry machines.
“So a benefit for not having to use the autoclave is that many other companies can join into the aerospace industry that, prior to this, could not,” Vickers adds. “Aerospace and lightweight materials…well, they go hand-in-hand.”
Pursuing both technologies in parallel—the composite tank and the cost-saving use of out-of-autoclave technology—exponentially contributes to the achievement of the project,” Vickers says. “It really gives the program two distinct technology advancements that are coming together.”
The project goal is to produce a major advancement in a demonstrated technology readiness; successfully test a 5.5 meter-diameter composite hydrogen fuel tank; achieve a 30 percent weight savings; and 25 percent cost savings, compared to today’s state-of- the-art.
The cryotank work can benefit multiple stakeholders, Vickers observes, be it NASA, industry, and other government agencies.
Vickers says that there are two milestone-making test article structures within his program, a 2.4 meter and the 5.5 meter diameter composite tank. “By the way, that 5.5 meter tank will be the largest composite liquid hydrogen tank that’s been designed, manufactured and tested,” he says.
Last September, NASA picked The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, Calif., for the Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort. Under that contract, Boeing will design, manufacture and test the lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks.
“The work is going very well,” Vickers explains. “We have a NASA team that’s focused on design and they are working very closely with Boeing.”
“As a NASA engineer, it’s the most fun because it’s the most challenging. We are encountering technical design issues that we’re overcoming. And that’s what engineering is really all about,” Vickers says. “Who is against lighter weight and lower cost? So we’re sitting in a pretty good spot.”
NASA Ames Research Center is exploring the state-of-the-art in technologies to detect health-related biomarkers/analytes in space. For this Request for Information (RFI), NASA is seeking detailed information regarding compact technologies currently available that can analyze health-related biomarkers/analytes in breath, saliva, dermal emanations, blood, and urine using a single compact device. The specific biomarkers/analytes to be detected are currently under evaluation by NASA, but include a broad range of molecules and cells associated with health status, impact of the space environment on individual astronauts, and prediction of future health events. Analyses and analytes of interest include cell profiles, proteins and peptides, and small organic molecules.
Improved Forecasting to Coincide with Peak in Solar Activity
After years of relative somnolence, the sun is beginning to stir. By the time it’s fully awake in about 20 months, the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., charged with researching and tracking solar activity, will have at their disposal a greatly enhanced forecasting capability.
Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory recently received support under NASA’s Space Technology Program Game Changing Program to implement “ensemble forecasting,” a computer technique already used by meteorologists to track potential paths and impacts of hurricanes and other severe weather events.
Instead of analyzing one set of solar-storm conditions, as is the case now, Goddard forecasters will be able to simultaneously produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts by calculating multiple possible conditions or, in the parlance of Heliophysicists, parameters. Just as important, they will be able to do this quickly and use the information to provide alerts of space weather storms that could potentially be harmful to astronauts and NASA spacecraft.
“Space weather alerts are available now, but we want to make them better,” said Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory and the recently named director of the Center’s Heliophysics Science Division. “Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts. This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are all susceptible to space weather.” Once it’s implemented, “there will be nothing like this in the world. No one has done ensemble forecasting for space weather.”
The state-of-the-art capability, which Hesse’s group is implementing now and expects to complete within three years, couldn’t come too soon, either.
Sun Growing Restless
Since the sun reached its solar minimum in 2008 — the period when the number of sunspots is lowest — it has begun to awaken from its slumber. On Aug. 4, the sun unleashed a near X-class solar flare that erupted near an Earth-facing sunspot. Although flares don’t always produce coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — gigantic bubbles of charged particles that can carry up to ten billion tons of matter and accelerate to several million miles per hour as they erupt from the sun’s atmosphere and stream through interplanetary space — this one did.
The CME overtook two previous CMEs — all occurring within 48 hours — and combined into a triple threat. Luckily for Earthlings, the CMEs produced only a moderate geomagnetic storm when solar particles streamed down the field lines toward Earth’s poles and collided with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere. Even so, “it was the strongest storm in many years,” said Antti Pulkkinen, one of the laboratory’s chief forecasters.
However, the repercussions could be far worse in the future. As part of its 11-year cycle, the sun is entering solar maximum, the period of greatest activity. It is expected to peak in 2013. During this time, more powerful CMEs, often associated with M- and X-class flare events, become more numerous and can affect any planet or spacecraft in its path. In the past, solar storms have disrupted power grids on Earth and damaged instrumentation on satellites. They can also be harmful to astronauts if they are not warned to take protective cover.
“No one knows exactly what the sun will do, Pulkkinen said. “We can’t even tell in a week, let alone a year or two, what the sun will do. All we know is that the sun will be more active.”
Given the expected uptick in activity, Hesse, Pulkkinen, and Yihua Zheng, another chief forecaster, were anxious to enhance their forecasting acumen. They partnered with the Space Radiation Analysis Group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is responsible for ensuring that astronauts’ exposure to deadly radiation remains below established safety levels, and won NASA funding to develop the Integrated Advanced Alert/Warning Systems for Solar Proton Events.
Weaknesses in Current System
“Ensemble forecasting holds the key” to an enhanced alert system,” Hesse said. “We agreed that this was the way to go.”
Currently, the laboratory is running one CME model — calculating one set of parameters — at a time. The parameters are derived from near real-time data gathered by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, among others. “But since all of these are scientific research missions, we have no guarantee of a continuous real-time data stream,” Zheng said.
Furthermore, imperfections exist in the data. These imperfections grow over time, leading to forecasts that don’t agree with the evolution of actual conditions. For NASA, the Air Force, and other organizations, which use Goddard’s forecasts to decide whether steps are needed to protect space assets and astronauts, uncertainty is as unwelcome as the storm itself.
Ensemble forecasting, however, overcomes the weaknesses by allowing forecasters to tweak the conditions. “Generating different parameters is easy — just varying a little bit of all parameters involved in characterizing a CME, such as its speed, propagation direction, and angular extent,” Zheng explained. In essence, the multiple forecasts provide information on the different ways the CME can evolve over the next few hours. “We’ll be able to characterize the uncertainties in our forecasts, which is almost as important as the forecast itself,” Pulkkinen added.
The team has already installed new computer systems to run the varying calculations and hopes to develop the ability to generate more specialized forecasts.
“We recognize there is a huge gap in our current capability,” Pulkkinen continued. “We certainly don’t want to miss the solar maximum with this capability. We’re really pushing the envelope to have it done. When we do, we’ll be the first in the world to have it.”
When this forecasting technique is verified and validated by NASA’s Space Weather Laboratory, the capability will be made available to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which is responsible for issuing national space weather alerts. NASA’s goal to understand and track space weather activity will enable a greatly enhanced forecasting capability for U.S. interests.
For more information about NOAA’s space weather efforts, visit:
For more information about technology development at the Goddard Space Flight Center, visit:
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
About Prophets of Science Fiction
What once was just imagination is now real; what was once the distant future is now around the corner. The “Science Fiction” of the past has now simply become “Science”. And the science of the future was strangely prophesied by a group of visionaries whose dreams once may have deemed them renegades and “mad scientists,” have become reality!
In 1950, the term “Robotics” was coined by author Isaac Asimov in his book I.ROBOT — and our collective imagination reeled. In the years since, literature, movies and television have allowed us to embrace the notion that the ideas of a few inspired visionaries could be made real. What is more astonishing is that these ideas have been, are currently and will be put to practice in our everyday lives. Each episode of the upcoming series PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION will focus on how the great minds of Science Fiction imagined our future for us, and how some, in turn, made their fantasies real.
In a dynamic hyper-stylized way that has never been seen before … we will take a tour of what was, and what will be through the eyes of the visionary authors, illustrators, filmmakers, and scientists who have become the PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION!
Source: Researcher News
The call came twice, the first time when he was a kid at his grandparents’ home in Tennesee and the Apollo launches were on television.
Then, when he was a NASA engineer, working on the space shuttle at Marshall Space Flight Center and looking for a place to hold a Bible study. From that study group sprang the New Life Tabernacle in Arab, Ala.
Its minister was Steve Gaddis, who now heads the NASA’s new Game Changing Development Program Office at NASA Langley.
He has spent the past five years going through a series of adjustments, from minister to layman, from deputy chief of the Launch Abort System to working with the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA headquarters, from working at an operations center to running an office at a research center.
Gaddis, a serious college football fan as a graduate of the universities of Tennessee and Alabama, calls it his “second half” and adds that it’s part of an ongoing education.
Take moving from Marshall to Langley, from human space flight operations to research linked to space flights of the future.
“It’s a big adjustment,” Gaddis said. “My wife asked me one night, ‘how are you liking it?’ I said, ‘It’s a slower pace, not because these guys don’t work hard, but because they’re just trying to get things right.’ Sometimes at an operations center, you have to say, ‘well, is it good enough?
” ‘Is it the best? No. Is it good enough to get the job done? Yeah.’ As an engineer, you want to put the best out there.”
Rather than figuring out a way to stop blades from melting on a shuttle engine turbine, he’s leading efforts in composites that will lighten the load the next rocket has to carry into space. Efforts in radiation shielding. Efforts in slowing a spacecraft down as it nears where it is to land.
And he’s catching the research fever. Passion for a job has never been a problem.
“I’m working with more scientists now than engineers,” Gaddis said. “Scientists are a different breed. They are as passionate about their research as anybody I’ve ever worked with in human space flight. They believe the research they are doing is going to propel this country forward — economically, technically and scientifically. They’re going to keep this country a leader in technology and innovation, and they believe it could be the technology they’re working on that does it. And they are right. This is the right place to invest.”
Gaddis grew up in Georgia, then moved to Tennessee, where space grabbed him so hard that, as a tot, he carried toy rockets in his pockets for play.
At the University of Tennessee, he went to a co-op exhibition, where he learned that NASA was looking for students. “I signed up, got selected and, my friend, the rest is history,” Gaddis said. “I never looked for another job.”
He worked with the space shuttle, then nuclear propulsion and finally launch abort, putting in long hours that got even longer when he was grabbed by a second vocation.
Or, more appropriate, a second call.
“We dug a church right out of the ground,” Gaddis said. “Once I was approved (as an ordained minister), we started door-knocking. I would use advertisements. We raised money and built a church to 250-300 members. We started a day care, a Christian K-12 school.”
And continued to work with NASA.
“It was tough,” Gaddis said. “It was quickly wearing me out. Then we went to teamwork. When you can’t do it all yourself, you start to understand that many hands make lighter work.”
A team ministry sprang up.
“That’s how I kept from having a heart attack from doing too much,” Gaddis admitted.
He found a young couple to take over the New Life Tabernacle and retired. Or as much as any minister can retire.
“It never completely stops,” Gaddis said. “You still get calls all the time, but all of that slows down.”
There’s time now for fishing with sons Stephen and Logan, as well as their various sports activities. An older daughter, Mindi, is married and another, Hannah, is a student at Old Dominion University.
He and wife Marquita want to return to foster parenting, as they did in Alabama.
“Anybody ought to help a kid,” Gaddis said.
The search is on for a church, and when you’ve been a minister, that search is a serious one. Like research, like working on the space shuttle, like everything else he has done in his life, it’s a search with passion and energy.
It’s the only way Gaddis knows how to approach anything.
In an interesting case of science fiction becoming a reality, NASA has been testing their SPHERES project over the past few years. The SPHERES project (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) involves spherical satellites about the size of a bowling ball. Used inside the International Space Station, the satellites are used to test autonomous rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Each individual satellite features its own power, propulsion, computers and navigational support systems.
New Langley Office Seeks to Change the Game | 10.20.11
By: Jim Hodges
The conference was rapid-fire.
Bang. An overview of advanced radiation protection.
Bang. Ten minutes on the Composite Cryogenic Tank.
Bang. Sextant. Space Synthetic Biology.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Let me just tell you something about what it means to me,” said Steve Gaddis, a Langley newcomer who heads the office. “This is two years of formulation, sweat, digging in the trenches to get a Game-Changing program going. We’re finally able to kick it off.”
Gaddis remained effusive.
“I’m reminded of the old Pinocchio story: We’re a real boy!” he said. “We’re not an (operations) plan change. We’re a fully funded element in the Congressional budget.”
That FY 2011 budget allocated about $350 million in startup money for the office of Space Technology, the parent of the Game Changing Development Program and nine other program offices around NASA. The FY 2012 budget, submitted by President Obama, lifted that to $1,024,000, though that is far from complete.
“On Monday, (the Office of Management of the Budget) came out with a statement that listed four priorities for NASA, and Space Technology was one of those priorities,” said Mike Gazarik, a former NASA Langley engineer who heads Space Technology for the agency. He was on hand Wednesday to celebrate opening of the Game Changing Technology office.
“What we need now is an appropriated budget,” Gazarik said. “Both the House and Senate have agreed with the program, that in FY ’12 we should make a separate account for it. They just haven’t agreed with the amount.”
For now, 904 jobs throughout the agency are supported by Space Technology. Langley has 152 of those jobs, more than any other center.
Their jobs at Langley involve advancing the development of technology from across the agency with a look toward the future.
“With Game-Changing, we’re supposed to be looking at a two-year process of getting the (Technology Readiness Level) from three to about five (on a scale of 1-9),” Gaddis said. “And we want somebody to touch it. We don’t just want somebody to develop it and put it on the shelf. We want somebody to use it.”
He pointed to the Cryogenic Composite Tank.
“It cuts down the weight of tanks by 50 percent,” Gaddis said. “Right now, we’re doing a small, 3.5-meter demonstration, and if we can demonstrate it successfully, then I think Space Launch System will take it on and use it (for upper stage cryogenic fuels).”
The job is a departure from most of Gaddis’ career, which was spent in human space flight. Programs in that realm tend to think in terms of systems. Space Technology is more concerned with pieces of systems.
“We’re assessing complicated systems,” Gaddis said. “What are the critical components that, if we matured that component, it would change the game for those guys: reduce the cost, increase the efficiency, lower the weight, expand the capability? That’s the kind of assessment we’ve been doing.
“A system is nothing but pieces coming together. So now, we’re making the pieces better.”
He has caught the technology fever.
“I’m not a true blue technologist but, man, they’ve got me fired up about it,” he said. “A lot of what we used in human spaceflight wasn’t cutting edge. This is cutting edge, man.
“This is going for something that worked on a lab table to take it to a ground demonstration and make it ready for a flight demonstration. It’s very exciting. I’m passionate about it. You can’t hang around these technologists without feeling their passion.”
When NASA Space Technology program was conceived two years ago, among its first components was going to be Game Changing Technology. Bobby Braun, the former agency chief technologist, and Gazarik traveled the country to explain the concept.
“It was going to be a group that was like DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency),” Gaddis said. “It could quickly do things, quickly assess things. Failure – we would learn from it.”
He and Gazarik spend less time explaining “game changing” these days.
“Two years ago, it was just talk,” Gaddis said. “Now it’s a full-fledged program.”
With an office in NASA Langley’s hangar that is open for business.
[Source: www.nasa.gov – Release 11:305]
WASHINGTON — NASA has selected The Boeing Company of Huntington Beach, Calif., for the Composite Cryotank Technologies Demonstration effort. Under the contract, Boeing will design, manufacture and test two lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks.
The demonstration effort will use advanced composite materials to develop new technologies that could be applied to multiple future NASA missions, including human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit.
Boeing will receive approximately $24 million over the project lifecycle from NASA’s Space Technology Program for the work which starts this month. The tanks will be manufactured at a Boeing facility in Seattle. Testing will start in late 2013 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“The goal of this particular technology demonstration effort is to achieve a 30 percent weight savings and a 25 percent cost savings from traditional metallic tanks,” said the Director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, Michael Gazarik at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Weight savings alone would allow us to increase our upmass capability, which is important when considering payload size and cost. This state-of-the-art technology has applications for multiple stakeholders in the rocket propulsion community.”
[Source: www.nasa.gov – Release 11-310]
WASHINGTON — NASA has selected two game-changing space technology projects for development. The selections are part of the agency’s efforts to pursue revolutionary technology required for future missions, while proving the capabilities and lowering the cost of government and commercial space activities.
“NASA’s Game Changing Technology Development program uses a rolling selection process to mature new, potentially transformative technologies from low to moderate technology readiness levels — from the edge of reality to a test article ready for the rigors of the lab,” said Space Technology Director Michael Gazarik at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These two new projects are just the beginning. Space Technology is making investments in critical technology areas that will enable NASA’s future missions, while benefiting the American aerospace community.”
The “Ride the Light” concept seeks to provide external power on demand for aerospace vehicles and other applications. The concept uses beamed power and propulsion produced by commercially available power sources such as lasers and microwave energy. The project will attempt to develop a low-cost, modular power beaming capability and explore multiple technologies to function as receiving elements of the beamed power.
The Amprius project will focus on the material optimization of silicon anodes and electrolyte formulation to meet the agency’s low-temperature energy requirements. Amprius developed a unique ultra-high capacity silicon anode for lithium ion batteries that will enable NASA to dramatically improve the specific energy of mission critical rechargeable batteries. NASA requirements are unique because of the extremely low temperatures encountered in space.
This combination of technologies could be applied to space propulsion, performance and endurance of un-piloted aerial vehicles or ground-to-ground power beaming applications. Development of such capabilities fulfills NASA’s strategic goal of developing high payoff technology and enabling missions otherwise unachievable with today’s technology.
On April 15, 2010, the President challenged NASA to “break through the barriers” to enable the “first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space” by 2025. One of these barriers is navigation technology.In the 18th century, the advancement of clock technology and resulting improvement in navigation fidelity brought us to the New World that we now call home. In support of NASA’s push to explore new worlds beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), and to serve a variety of national needs, the NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR) team proposes to use the International Space Station (ISS) to validate a revolutionary navigation technology.
The NICER/SEXTANT (NICER is the name given to the instrument for the SMD proposal, but NICER and SEXTANT are the same instrument) concept uses a collection of pulsars— stellar “lighthouses”—as a time and navigation standard just like the atomic clocks of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Unlike GPS satellites, NICER pulsars are distributed across the Galaxy, providing an infrastructure of precise timing beacons that can support navigation throughout the Solar System. Since their discovery in 1967, pulsars have been envisioned as a tool for Galactic navigation (Figure 1). An NICER system measures the arrival times of pulses through the detection of X-ray photons; a sequence of measurements is then stitched together into an autonomous on-board navigation solution.
NASA’s plans for distant exploration demand breakthrough navigation tools. The best current capabilities are resource-intensive and degrade as explorers recede from Earth. At Mars, they yield crossrange spacecraft positions to a few kilometers, but impose scheduling burdens on the Deep Space Network (DSN). For critical applications such as orbit insertion at Jupiter and beyond, the current state-of-the-art is pushed to its practical limit. NICER complements the existing navigation toolbox, promising three-dimensional position accuracies better than 500 m anywhere in the Solar System. Ultimately, a small (~0.1 m3), low mass (<~10 kg) NICER package will offer a cost effective on-board navigation option for the redundancy and reliability required for human exploration beyond LEO, and will enable deep-space missions that are not feasible with Earth-based tracking.
X-ray pulsar timing applications address the navigation and exploration goals of the National Space Policy of June 28, 2010, and NASA, DoD, and NIST are investing in technology development to exploit them. As celestial clocks, pulsars offer a new time standard that can be independently generated anywhere. The DoD is exploring applications enabled by a network of spacecraft with synchronized clocks, including mitigation of vulnerabilities in GPS. DARPA has funded the X-ray Timing (XTIM) program, which, in collaboration with the ISS NICER experiment, will demonstrate distributed time-synchronization using celestial sources.
Figure 1: NICER/SEXTANT brings to practical reality the concept of a pulsar based map, first used on the Pioneer Plaque to encode (radial lines at left) the Sun’s location in the Galaxy .
NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) is a SMD science mission chosen to go into Phase A. NICER represents a science aspect of SEXTANT, where looking at many of the same Neutron Stars we need to enable pulsar navigation, scientists can also learn about the densest objects in the universe and study extreme physics.
The combination of the science and technology demonstration represented by SEXTANT reflects a true cost sharing between very different parts of NASA and the US Government.
The selection notice is at: