Simulation Packages Expand Aircraft Design Options

NASA Technology

When engineers explore designs for safer, more fuel efficient, or faster aircraft, they encounter a common problem: they never know exactly what will happen until the vehicle gets off the ground.

“You will never get the complete answer until you build the airplane and fly it,” says Colin Johnson of Desktop Aeronautics. “There are multiple levels of simulation you can do to approximate the vehicle’s performance, however.”

altWhen designing a new air vehicle, computational fluid dynamics, or CFD, comes in very handy for engineers. CFD can predict the flow of fluids and gasses around an object—such as over an aircraft’s wing—by running complex calculations of the fluid physics. This information is helpful in assessing the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance and handling characteristics.

In 2001, after several years of development, NASA released a new approach to CFD called Cart3D. The tool provides designers with an automated, highly accurate computer simulation suite to streamline the conceptual analysis of aerospace vehicles. Specifically, it allows users to perform automated CFD analysis on complex vehicle designs. In 2002, the innovation won NASA’s Software of the Year award.

Michael Aftosmis, one of the developers of Cart3D and a fluid mechanics engineer at Ames Research Center, says the main purpose of the program was to remove the mesh generation bottleneck from CFD. A major benefit of Cart3D is that the mesh, or the grid for analyzing designs, is produced automatically. Traditionally, the mesh has been generated by hand, and requires months or years to produce for complex vehicle configurations. Cart3D’s automated volume mesh generation enables even the most complex geometries to be modeled hundreds of times faster, usually within seconds. “It allows a novice user to get the same quality results as an expert,” says Aftosmis.

Now, a decade later, NASA continues to enhance Cart3D to meet users’ needs for speed, power, and flexibility. Cart3D provides the best of both worlds—the payoff of using a complex, high-fidelity simulation with the ease of use and speed of a much simpler, lower-fidelity simulation method. Aftosmis explains how instead of simulating just one case, Cart3D’s ease of use and automation allows a user to efficiently simulate many cases to understand how a vehicle behaves for a range of conditions. “Cart3D is the first tool that was able to do that successfully,” he says.

At NASA, Aftosmis estimates that 300–400 engineers use the package. “We use it for space vehicle design, supersonic aircraft design, and subsonic aircraft design.”

Technology Transfer

To enable more use of Cart3D for private and commercial aviation entities, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at Langley Research Center provided funds to Desktop Aeronautics, based in Palo Alto, California, to build a plug-in to Cart3D that increases the code’s accuracy under particular flow conditions. Aftosmis says Desktop Aeronautics delivered valuable results and made Cart3D more applicable for general use. “Now they are bringing the product to market. This is something we never would have had the time to do at NASA. That’s the way the SBIR process is supposed to work.”

In 2010, Desktop Aeronautics acquired a license from Ames to sell Cart3D. The company further enhanced the software by making it cross-platform, incorporated a graphical user interface, and added specialized features to enable extra computation for the analysis of airplanes with engines and exhaust.

“I think it’s going to be game-changing for CFD,” says Aftosmis. “Cart3D is the only commercial simulation tool that can guarantee the accuracy of every solution the user does.”


Benefits

altToday, Desktop Aeronautics employs Cart3D in its consulting services and licenses the spinoff product to clients for in-house use. The company provides commercial licenses and academic licenses for research and development projects.

The software package allows users to perform automated CFD analysis on complex designs and, according to the company, enables geometry acquisition and mesh generation to be performed within a few minutes on most desktop computers.

Simulations generated by Cart3D are assisting organizations in the design of subsonic aircraft, space planes, spacecraft, and high speed commercial jets. Customers are able to simulate the efficiency of designs through performance metrics such as lift-to-drag ratio.

“It will assemble a spectrum of solutions for many different cases, and from that spectrum, the cases that perform best give insight into how to improve one’s design,” says Johnson. “Cart3D’s preeminent benefit is that it’s automated and can handle complex geometry. It’s blazing fast. You push a button, and it takes care of the volume meshing and flow measurement.”

Without building an aircraft, engineers can never be completely certain which design concept will perform best in flight. However, they now have a tool to make the most informed prediction possible.

[Source]

Mars Cameras Make Panoramic Photography a Snap

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Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The Gigapan robotic platform holds a digital camera.
The Gigapan robotic platform now enables photographers on Earth to capture and create super-sized digital panoramas.

If you wish to explore a Martian landscape without leaving your armchair, a few simple clicks around the NASA Web site will lead you to panoramic photographs taken from the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Many of the technologies that enable this spectacular Mars photography have also inspired advancements in photography here on Earth, including the panoramic camera (Pancam) and its housing assembly, designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Cornell University for the Mars missions. Mounted atop each rover, the Pancam mast assembly (PMA) can tilt a full 180 degrees and swivel 360 degrees, allowing for a complete, highly detailed view of the Martian landscape.

The rover Pancams take small, 1 megapixel (1 million pixel) digital photographs, which are stitched together into large panoramas that sometimes measure 4 by 24 megapixels. The Pancam software performs some image correction and stitching after the photographs are transmitted back to Earth. Different lens filters and a spectrometer also assist scientists in their analyses of infrared radiation from the objects in the photographs. These photographs from Mars spurred developers to begin thinking in terms of larger and higher quality images: super-sized digital pictures, or gigapixels, which are images composed of 1 billion or more pixels.

Gigapixel images are more than 200 times the size captured by today’s standard 4 megapixel digital camera. Although originally created for the Mars missions, the detail provided by these large photographs allows for many purposes, not all of which are limited to extraterrestrial photography.

Partnership

The technology behind the Mars rover PMAs inspired Randy Sargent at Ames Research Center and Illah Nourbakhsh at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to look at ways consumers might be able to use similar technology for more “down-to-Earth” photography and virtual exploration.

In 2005, Sargent and Nourbakhsh created the Global Connection Project, a collaboration of scientists from CMU, Google Inc., and the National Geographic Society, whose vision is to encourage better understanding of the Earth’s cultures through images. This vision inspired the development of their Gigapan products.

After seeing what the Pancams and PMAs could do, Sargent created a prototype for a consumer-version of a robotic camera platform. He worked with Rich LeGrand of Charmed Labs LLC, in Austin, Texas, to design and manufacture the Gigapan robotic platform for standard digital cameras.

Product Outcome

The Gigapan robotic platform is, in essence, an intelligent tripod that enables an amateur photographer to set up detailed shots with ease. A user sets the upper-left and lower-right corners of the panorama, and the Gigapan simply will capture as many images as the user or scene requires. With this level of automation, a 500-picture panorama is no more complicated than a 4-picture panorama; only the camera’s memory limits the size of the panorama.

The Global Connection Project also created two other Gigapan products: a Gigapan Web site and panorama stitching software born from the Ames Vision Workbench, an image processing and computer vision library developed by the Autonomous Systems and Robotics Area in the Intelligent Systems Division.

A high-resolution composite photograph shows a monk atop a temple in Nepal, the temple at a distance, and a restaurant behind the temple.
Gigapan allows a photographer to capture extremely high-resolution panoramas, which a user can explore in depth. In this wide view of Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, it is possible to zoom all the way into the smallest, barely visible points in the picture, such as the monk standing on the roof of the temple or the sign above the Tibet Kitchen Restaurant and Bar.
Gigapan panoramic image courtesy of Jessee Mayfield.

The robotic platform works with the stitching software by precisely manipulating and aligning each shot ahead of time. The Gigapan software complements the robotic platform by arranging the parts of the panorama (potentially hundreds of individual photographs) into a grid where they are stitched together into a single, very large Gigapan image.

The Global Connection Project won a 2006 “Economic Development Award” from the Tech Museum Awards for its work in creating photographic overlays for Google Earth of areas affected by natural disasters. Government workers and concerned citizens used the images on Google Earth to see which areas needed help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

On the Gigapan Web site, a user can display a wide bird’s eye panorama and can then zoom in with impressive bug’s eye high-quality detail. On first impression, a panoramic photograph on Gigapan’s site might seem to be simply a wide-angle cityscape of a temple in Kathmandu. With each successive click, however, the user can zoom deeper and deeper into the photo, revealing more and more clear details: a monk hanging prayer flags on the roof of the temple and the Tibet Kitchen Restaurant and Bar a few blocks behind the temple, with a sign extolling passersby to taste their gourmet food.

As part of a continuing effort to connect people and cultures, the Global Connection Project encourages all users to upload their own panoramas from around the world on the Gigapan site. Users can explore such varied landscapes as a temple in Nepal, the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, a market in Guatemala, or the Boston skyline from the Charles River. Because of the much greater number of pixels, the resolution is unprecedented; the Gigapan software and robotic platforms can theoretically produce prints on 40-foot-wide paper without any loss in quality.

Whether or not photographers use the Gigapan mounts and software, anyone can upload their panoramas to the Gigapan Web site. Many users of Gigapan have uploaded standard panorama photographs, as well (although the site suggests photographs be at least 50 megabytes). This is just fine with the Gigapan and the Global Connection Project coordinators, whose aim is simply to encourage exploration and understanding of the various cultures in our world.

The Fine Family Foundation is sponsoring work with the Global Connection Project to enable botanists, geologists, archeologists, and other scientists around the world to document different aspects of the Earth’s cultures and ecosystems using Gigapan technology. Scientists are using Gigapan to document life in the upper redwood forest canopy in California, volcanoes in Hawaii, and glaciers in Norway.

There are also educational uses for the Gigapan: The Pennsylvania Board of Tourism uses Gigapan for Web site visitors wanting to explore Civil War sites virtually. Also, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Global Connection Project has distributed Gigapan to students in Pittsburgh, South Africa, and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, encouraging them to photograph their local culture and share those panoramas with the world. “The hope is that students will be able to have deeper connections to other cultures,” said Sargent.

A time-lapse Gigapan robotic mount is now in development, and a professional unit for larger SLR-style cameras may be released before the end of 2008.

Gigapan is a trademark of Carnegie Mellon University.

Boosting NASA’s Budget Will Help Fix Economy: Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

ItsNeil

 Reinvigorating space exploration in the United States will require not only boosting NASA’s budget but also getting the public to understand how pushing the boundaries of the space frontier benefits the country’s innovation, culture and economy, said renowned astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Space is a $300 billion industry worldwide,” Tyson said. “NASA is a tiny percent of that. [But] that little bit is what inspires dreams.”

He spoke about how space has influenced culture — ranging from how the fins on early rockets inspired fins on automobiles in the 1950s, to how the Apollo 8 mission’s iconic picture taken in 1968 of Earth rising above the horizon of the moon led to a greater appreciation for our planet and the need to protect it. Yet, many people outside the space community see itas a special interest group, Tyson said.

“Innovation drives economy,” he said. “It’s especially been true since the Industrial Revolution.”

Tyson advocated doubling NASA’s budget — which President Barack Obama set at $17.7 billion in his 2013 federal budget request — and then laid out a different approach to space exploration that he called somewhat “unorthodox.” Rather than focusing on one destination at a time, Tyson promoted building a core fleet of launch vehicles that can be customized for a variety of missions and for a range of purposes.

“We’re kind of doing that now, but let’s do that as the focus,” Tyson said. “One configuration will get you to the moon. Another will get you to a Lagrangian point. Another will get you to Mars.”

Having an available suite of launch vehicles will open up access to space for a wider range of purposes, which will, in turn, benefit the country’s economy and innovation.

Tyson compared it with the country’s system of interstates, which helped connect cities across the country and made travel more efficient.

“When Eisenhower came back from Europe after he saw the [German] autobahn, and how it survived heavy climactic variation and troop maneuvers, he said, ‘I want some of that in my country,'” Tyson explained. “So he gets everyone to agree to build the interstate system. Did he say, ‘you know, I just want to build it from New York to L.A., because that’s where you should go?’ No. The interstate system connects everybody in whatever way you want. That’s how you grow a system.”

Furthermore, this type of capability can be used for a myriad of purposes, including military endeavors, science missions, commercial expeditions and space tourism.

“Whatever the needs or urges — be they geopolitical, military, economic — space becomes that frontier,” Tyson said. “Not only do you innovate, these innovations make headlines. Those headlines work their way down the educational pipeline. Everybody in school knows about it. You don’t have to set up a program to convince people that being an engineer is cool. They’ll know it just by the cultural presence of those activities. You do that, and it’ll jump-start our dreams.”

[Source]

Photocatalytic Solutions Create Self-Cleaning Surfaces

International Space Station
NASA has explored photocatalytic technologies as a means for keeping space environments such as the International Space Station clean.

NASA Technology

Hazy smog over cities and smoke pouring from the stacks of factories and power plants are visible reminders of the threat posed by air pollution to the environment and personal health. But air quality is often an unseen influence on our lives. Even on clear days, the air can be rife with particulate matter and other irritants that can trigger everything from minor allergies to life-threatening asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments. Indoors—where we spend as much as 90 percent of our time—pollutant levels can be 2–50 times higher than outdoors. The World Health Organization estimates that urban outdoor air pollution causes 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year, while in developing countries, indoor air pollution causes an estimated 2 million premature deaths.

Fortunately, there may be an equally invisible solution for reducing the damage air pollution causes—not only to people, but to buildings and infrastructure as well.

NASA has explored the beneficial applications of a process called photocatalysis for use both in space and on Earth. Photocatalysis is essentially the opposite of photosynthesis, the process used by plants to create energy. In photocatalysis, light energizes a mineral, triggering chemical reactions that result in the breakdown of organic matter at the molecular level, producing primarily carbon dioxide and water as byproducts.

NASA has studied the benefits of photocatalysis for purifying water during space missions, and plant growth chambers featuring photocatalytic scrubbers have flown on multiple NASA missions, using the photocatalytic process to preserve the space-grown crops by eliminating the rot-inducing chemical ethylene. (The scrubber technology resulted in a unique air purifier, featured in Spinoff 2009, now preserving produce and sanitizing operating rooms on Earth.)

Lauren Underwood, a senior research scientist at Stennis Space Center, began studying photocatalytic materials as part of a NASA partnership with the US Department of Homeland Security, which was investigating the materials for multiple applications, including protecting infrastructures against terrorism threats. From NASA’s perspective, Underwood explains, “We don’t want to introduce anything into space that could be potentially harmful. This is a future promising application of these materials—to keep surfaces not only clean, but potentially germ free.”

Intrigued by the technology’s potential, Underwood saw a way for photocatalytic materials to provide benefits for NASA on Earth, as well.

“At Stennis, we have a lot of buildings and facilities that are primarily white, and there are maintenance costs associated with keeping these buildings clean,” Underwood says. She began testing photocatalytic materials as a valid solution for reducing these maintenance costs—with an eye not only for potential NASA benefits, but for the greater public as well.

Technology Transfer

Among the technologies selected for Underwood’s research were those developed by New York City’s PURETi Inc., a company that had created a new approach to titanium dioxide-based photocatalysis. (Titanium dioxide, a common compound found in everything from paint to suntan lotion to food coloring, acts as a photocatalyst when exposed to ultraviolet light.) Common methods of incorporating titanium dioxide involve melting or mixing the compound into building materials, or applying it with solvent-based carriers like paint. With these methods, however, the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide clump together, reducing their exposed surface area and thus their exposure to light. Much of the compound ends up buried in the building material, providing no benefit.

Sculpture coated with air-purifying technology
This sculpture—called Wendy and coated with PURETi’s technology—became the world’s most unusual air purifier during the summer of 2012.

PURETi (pronounced “purity”) devised a liquid-based method of growing nanocrystals of highly photoactive titanium dioxide, which are suspended in a highly adhesive and durable water-based solution. To study the effectiveness of the technology, Underwood applied PURETi’s solution to building surfaces at Stennis and monitored any changes through standard photography as well as remote sensing technology that measured the surfaces’ spectral reflectance—how much they reflect light.

“Not only did the photographs show that the coated surfaces maintained the clean, white state seen when they were initially painted, from an analytical perspective, it was also demonstrated that the surfaces that were photocatalytically coated maintained higher reflectance values, when compared to the uncoated surfaces,” Underwood says, implying that there is less dirt build up on the photocatalytically treated surfaces. “I was very pleased with the outcome. It’s exciting that there is a nontoxic mechanism to keep buildings clean and at the same time reduce maintenance costs, energy costs, and the use of harsh chemicals.”

Through its participation in Underwood’s research, PURETi became a NASA Dual Use Technology partner, a cost-sharing collaboration aimed at the development of products that meet both NASA and commercial needs.

Benefits

PURETi now offers a range of nontoxic, environmentally sound commercial photocatalytic formulations designed to transform nearly any surface—from buildings to textiles to glass—into a self-cleaning air purifier. One spray application of the photocatalytic solution breaks down organic pollutants, keeps surfaces clear of grime and mold, and purifies surrounding air for at least 3 years.

When applied to outdoor surfaces such as building facades, these proprietary photocatalytic coatings provide extensive savings by reducing maintenance by more than 50 percent and typically offering a return on investment in less than 2 years. Indoors, the technology eliminates odors and creates hospital-grade air quality, with an 85 percent reduction in the dangerous volatile organic compounds emitted from some paints, new furniture and carpets, and photocopy machines and other office equipment.

Surface with an air-purifying solution applied
Solar panels with an air-purifying solution
Windows with an air-purifying solution
PURETi’s photocatalytic solutions keep building surfaces (left, with the treated segment on the left), solar panels (above, with treated cells in the foreground), and windows (right, with treated windows toward the middle) free of grime—reducing maintenance costs, increasing efficiency, and providing all of these surfaces with air purifying capabilities.

PURETi’s innovation is now being applied by manufacturers of textiles, porcelain tiles, and home furnishings, with expectations to expand into the glass, precast concrete, and roofing membrane industries. Schools, hotels, factories, and even coffee shops and pet stores are exploring the use of these photocataltyic coatings to improve air quality and eliminate odors. Studies are underway to evaluate the benefits of PURETi applied to the inside of animal barns; previous research indicates that livestock breathing cleaner air grow faster with less food and require less need for antibiotics and steroids. Roads coated with PURETi act as effective depolluters, according to university studies.

A number of projects are also testing the ability of PURETi’s solutions to keep solar panels clean for longer, improving their efficiency. The company even collaborated with an architectural firm to transform the firm’s massive modern art sculpture—called Wendy and on display at the Museum of Modern Art’s Queens, New York, campus in 2012—into perhaps the world’s most unusual air purifier.

“The applications are virtually endless,” says Glen Finkel, PURETi’s president. “There is no surface that light can reach that PURETi can’t enhance.”

“We all love innovation, but you can only have innovation if someone has the guts to go first.”

—Glen Finkel, PURETi Inc.

Stennis Space Center’s INFINITY Science Center
Stennis Space Center’s new INFINITY Science Center not only inspires learning in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines, but will serve as the site of ongoing research on PURETi’s photocatalytic technologies.

While photocatalysis is well known in Japan and Europe, PURETi’s mission, Finkel says, is to gain traction for its unique version of the technology as a real answer to air quality issues in the United States. With the help of its NASA collaboration, PURETi is seeing ongoing returns on its efforts. The company’s technology has won multiple awards, including the Popular Science Green Tech 2011 Innovative Product of the Year and the Material of the Year Award from Material ConneXions. One of the company’s customers, the Asthma and Allergy Prevention Company, recently received Class II Medical Device approval from the Federal Drug Administration for its protocol—centered on PURETi’s technology—that creates hospital-grade pure air environments in homes to prevent respiratory problems for cystic fibrosis patients. And a Yale University team is set to study PURETi as a means for enhancing infection control in rural health clinics in developing countries.

“We all love innovation,” Finkel says. “But you can only have innovation if someone has the guts to go first. We will forever be indebted to NASA for taking us seriously, for engaging with us as a Dual Use Technology partner. We have this technology that sounds too good to be true. Our challenge is to raise awareness in a credible way, and the involvement with NASA lends support to our credibility.”

At Stennis, Underwood is continuing to explore the full potential of PURETi’s technology, with an additional study set to begin using the new INFINITY at NASA Stennis Space Center as a testbed. Partnerships like the one between NASA and PURETi are a key driver of innovation, says Underwood, who says she is always looking for ways to help NASA give back to the taxpaying public.

“You can’t do everything by yourself,” she says. “It’s a combination of expertise and skill sets that helps bring things to fruition.”

INFINITY® is a registered trademark of the nonprofit 501(c)(3) Board of Directors, INFINITY Science Center Inc.

[Source]

How exactly does Science Grow Jobs?

 

wp_sci

Technology Needed
When we send astronauts into space, Scientists and Engineers are hired to create solutions and advance the possibilities of experimentation while in orbit. Each new NASA mission opens up employment for thousands of highly skilled people. The men and women that are accepted for this task are very well compensated, which stimulates our economy.

For example: The Commercial Spaceflight Federations says that an independent study reveals the new NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program funding proposed in the space agency’s FY2011 Budget Request will result in an average of 11,800 direct jobs per year over the next five years, nationwide.
[Source: Universetoday.com]

Technology Invented
From advanced flight suits to organic biosensors, NASA has invented some incredible technology. Each new mission requires new technology and inventions to achieve the goals we have set in place for space exploration. But when the mission is over, what happens to that technology?

Spinoffs Possible
A NASA spinoff is a technology, originally developed to meet NASA mission needs, that has been transferred to the public and now provides benefits for the Nation and world as a commercial product or service. NASA spinoffs enhance many aspects of daily life, including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity. These spinoffs are transferred to the public through various NASA partnerships including licensing, funding agreements, assistance from NASA experts, the use of NASA facilities, and other collaborations between the Agency, private industry, other government agencies, and academia. As of 2012, NASA has documented nearly 1,800 spinoff technologies in the annual NASA Spinoff publication.
[Source: Spinoff.Nasa.Gov]

Jobs Created
A company partners with NASA to create a product. How does that product move from paper to the production line? When a partnership is formed between a company and NASA, the company is allowed to use specific NASA tech in their products. AgriHouse created texting plants using biosensors that astronauts used to sustain agriculture while in space. Well-compensated scientists, engineers, and office personnel are hired to develop, perfect, and market the new product to the public. NASA has over 1,800 spinoffs, which means 1,800 companies have opened their doors to new employees because of the technology NASA licenses out.

Committee Approves Bipartisan NASA Authorization Act

Washington, D.C. – The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology today approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2014 (H.R. 4412) with unanimous bipartisan support. The bipartisan bill reaffirms Congress’s commitment to space exploration, both human and robotic, and makes clear that human spaceflight to Mars is NASA’s primary goal.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “Today’s bill ensures that NASA will continue to innovate and inspire. The scientists, engineers and astronauts who find creative and new solutions to the challenges of exploring the universe serve as role models for our students. NASA has accomplished some of the most awe-inspiring and technologically advanced space initiatives in the history of humankind. There is strong, bipartisan support for NASA’s unique role, and the Manager’s Amendment offered today reflects this.”

The bipartisan Manager’s Amendment, offered by Space Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.), increases the use of the International Space Station for science research, encourages commercial use of space, protects us from the effects of solar flares, helps remove orbital debris, and supports the development of a new space telescope that will detect Earth-sized planets.

Subcommittee Chairman Palazzo: “I would like to thank Chairman Smith, Ms. Edwards, and Ms. Johnson for their efforts in pulling together this agreement, as well as all of our staff who labored over this bill. I look forward to continuing our work to pass this bill on the House floor. I am proud that we are able to put our names on a bipartisan bill for the sake of our nation’s space program, national pride, and our national security.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2014 continues the consistent guidance Congress has given to NASA for nearly a decade by reaffirming a stepping stone approach to exploration in a go-as-you-can-afford-to-pay manner by developing an exploration roadmap.  It supports the development on the Space Launch System and the Orion Crew Vehicle to push the boundaries of human exploration, and focuses NASA’s efforts to develop a capability to access low Earth orbit and the International Space Station so that America can once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

The bill also supports a healthy science directorate that reflects the input from the scientific community and an aeronautics research directorate that contributes to our nation’s aerospace economy. 

[Source]

Winglets Save Billions of Dollars in Fuel Costs

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Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

KC-135 aircraft
During the 1970s, the focus at Dryden Flight Research Center shifted from high-speed and high-altitude flight to incremental improvements in technology and aircraft efficiency. One manifestation of this trend occurred in the winglet flight research carried out on this KC-135 during 1979 and 1980.

Anyone who has made a paper airplane knows that folding the wingtips upward makes your plane look better and fly farther, though the reasons for the latter might be a mystery. The next time you snag a window seat on an airline flight, check out the plane’s wing. There is a good chance the tip of the wing will be angled upward, almost perpendicular. Or it might bend smoothly up like the tip of an eagle’s wing in flight. Though obviously more complex, these wing modifications have the same aerodynamic function as the folded wingtips of a paper airplane. More than an aesthetically pleasing design feature, they are among aviation’s most visible fuel-saving, performance-enhancing technologies.

Aerodynamics centers on two major forces: lift and drag. Lift is the force that enables a plane to fly. It is generated by unequal pressure on a wing as air flows around it—positive pressure underneath the wing and negative pressure above. Drag is the resistance encountered while moving through the airflow. A significant source of drag is actually derived from the high pressure under the wing, which causes air to flow up over the wingtip and spin off in a vortex. These vortices produce what is called induced drag and are powerful enough to disrupt aircraft flying too closely to one another—one reason for the carefully monitored spacing between flights at takeoff and in the air. Induced drag hampers aircraft performance, cutting into fuel mileage, range, and speed.

In 1897, British engineer Frederick W. Lanchester conceptualized wing end-plates to reduce the impact of wingtip vortices, but modern commercial technology for this purpose traces its roots to pioneering NASA research in the 1970s. At the time, NASA’s Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) program sought ways to conserve energy in aviation in response to the 1973 oil crisis. As part of the ACEE effort, Langley Research Center aeronautical engineer Richard Whitcomb conducted computer and wind tunnel tests to explore his hypothesis that a precisely designed, vertical wingtip device—which Whitcomb called a “winglet”—could weaken wingtip vortices and thus diminish induced drag. Less drag would translate into less fuel burn and better cruise efficiency. The winglet concept provided a better option than simple wing extensions which, while offering similar aerodynamic benefits, would require weight-adding strengthening of the wings and could render a plane too wide for airport gates.

After evaluating a range of winglet designs, Whitcomb published his findings in 1976, predicting that winglets employed on transport-size aircraft could diminish induced drag by approximately 20 percent and improve the overall aircraft lift-drag ratio by 6 to 9 percent.

Whitcomb’s research generated interest in civil and military aviation communities, leading to flight testing that would not only confirm his predictions, but help popularize the winglet technology now found on airplanes around the world.

Partnership

In 1977, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and The Boeing Company, headquartered in Chicago, initiated a winglet flight test program at Dryden Flight Research Center. Whitcomb’s Langley team provided the design, and Boeing, under contract with NASA, manufactured a pair of 9-foot-high winglets for the KC-135 test aircraft provided by the Air Force.

Whitcomb was validated: The tests demonstrated a 7-percent increase in lift-drag ratio with a 20-percent decrease in induced drag—directly in line with the Langley engineer’s original findings. Furthermore, the winglets had no adverse impact on the airplane’s handling. The Dryden test program results indicated to the entire aviation industry that winglets were a technology well worth its attention.

The 1970s were an important decade for winglet development for smaller jet aircraft, with manufacturers Learjet and Gulfstream testing and applying the technology. Winglets for large airliners began to appear later; in 1989, Boeing introduced its winglet-enhanced 747-400 aircraft, and in 1990 the winglet-equipped McDonnell Douglas MD-11 began commercial flights following winglet testing by the company under the ACEE program.

In 1999, Aviation Partners Boeing (APB) was formed, a partnership with Seattle-based Aviation Partners Inc. and The Boeing Company. The companies created APB initially to equip Boeing Business Jets, a 737 derivative, with Aviation Partners’ unique take on the NASA-proven winglet technology: Blended Winglets.

Product Outcome

Aircraft with winglets
Aviation Partners Boeing manufactures and retrofits Blended Winglets for commercial airliners. The technology typically produces a 4- to 6-percent fuel savings, which can translate to thousands of gallons of fuel saved per plane, per year.

Like other winglet designs, APB’s Blended Winglet reduces drag and takes advantage of the energy from wingtip vortices, actually generating additional forward thrust like a sailboat tacking upwind. Unlike other winglets that are shaped like a fold, this design merges with the wing in a smooth, upturned curve. This blended transition solves a key problem with more angular winglet designs, says Mike Stowell, APB’s executive vice president and chief technical officer.

“There is an aerodynamic phenomena called interference drag that occurs when two lifting surfaces intersect. It creates separation of the airflow, and this gradual blend is one way to take care of that problem,” he says.

APB’s Blended Winglets are now featured on thousands of Boeing aircraft in service for numerous American and international airlines. Major discount carriers like Southwest Airlines and Europe’s Ryanair take advantage of the fuel economy winglets afford. Employing APB’s Blended Winglets, a typical Southwest Boeing 737-700 airplane saves about 100,000 gallons of fuel each year. The technology in general offers between 4- and 6-percent fuel savings, says Stowell.

“Fuel is a huge direct operating cost for airlines,” he explains. “Environmental factors are also becoming significant. If you burn less fuel, your emissions will go down as well.” APB winglets provide up to a 6-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and an 8-percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, an atmospheric pollutant. The benefits of winglets do not stop there, Stowell explains. Reduced drag means aircraft can operate over a greater range and carry more payload. Winglet-equipped airplanes are able to climb with less drag at takeoff, a key improvement for flights leaving from high-altitude, high-temperature airports like Denver or Mexico City. Winglets also help planes operate more quietly, reducing the noise footprint by 6.5 percent.

If all the single-digit percentages of savings seem insignificant on their own, they add up. In 2010, APB announced its Blended Winglet technology has saved 2 billion gallons of jet fuel worldwide. This represents a monetary savings of $4 billion and an equivalent reduction of almost 21.5 million tons in carbon dioxide emissions. APB predicts total fuel savings greater than 5 billion gallons by 2014.

APB, the only company to currently both manufacture and retrofit winglets for commercial airliners, is currently equipping Boeing vehicles at the rate of over 400 aircraft per year. It is also continually examining ways to advance winglet technology, including spiroid winglets, a looped winglet design Aviation Partners first developed and successfully tested in the 1990s. That design reduced fuel consumption more than 10 percent.

While winglets require careful customization for each type of plane, they provide effective benefits for any make and model of aircraft—even unmanned aerial vehicles. Consider other winglet designs on commercial carriers, as well as blended and other winglets on smaller jets and general aviation aircraft, and the impact of the original NASA research takes on even greater significance.

“Those flight tests put winglets on the map,” says Stowell.

Blended Winglets™ is a trademark of Aviation Partners Inc.

Rocket-Powered Parachutes Rescue Entire Planes

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Parachute system
This BRS Aerospace Inc. parachute system, designed for sport aircraft, deploys its chute (contained in the white canister) in less than 1 second, thanks to a solid rocket motor (the black tube on top).

When Boris Popov was 8 years old, he took one of his mother’s sheets and some thread, made a parachute, climbed a tree, and jumped. The homemade chute did little to break Popov’s fall; his father took the disappointed boy aside and said, “Son, you’ve got to start higher.”

Years later in the mid-1970s, recent college graduate Popov was hang gliding over a lake when the boat that was towing him accelerated too quickly, ripping the control bar from his hands. Some 500 feet in the air, Popov’s glider went into a spiral, coming apart as Popov plummeted to the water. As he fell, Popov realized that if he only had some kind of parachute, he could have been saved. Before impact, he promised himself that, if he survived, he would create a solution that would save people in these types of emergency situations.

“BRS is
a classic
example of
taxpayers’ money being spent
on research
that has
translated into
246 lives saved.”

Decades later, the U.S. air transportation system was suffering its own kind of free fall. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 led to stringent security measures that complicated and slowed down air travel. Even as the industry recovered from the effects of the attacks, increased flights and passenger demand strained the National Airspace System (NAS) at levels never before experienced. At the same time, NASA was exploring ways of extending aviation to rural America using smaller general aviation (GA) aircraft and local community airports. The NASA Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) project envisioned an on-demand, point-to-point, widely distributed transportation system relying on small aircraft (4-10 passengers) operating out of the Nation’s more than 5,400 public-use landing facilities. With about 98 percent of the population living within 20 miles of at least one such airport, SATS could provide cheaper, faster, and more practical options for business and leisure travel, medical services, and package delivery.

Though the SATS project concluded its research in 2006, the pursuit of a nationwide GA transportation system continues through other initiatives like NASA’s Green Flight Centennial Challenge, scheduled for 2011, which encourages competing teams to maximize fuel efficiency for personal aircraft, as well as reduce noise and improve safety. Technological advances are still necessary, however, to make such a system viable, such as improving the safety of small aircraft. One solution has come in the form of an invention developed by Popov, who having survived his fall, began investigating methods of ballistically deploying parachutes for aircraft in emergency situations. Today, with the help of a NASA partnership, the parachute that Popov wished for when plunging to Earth is saving hundreds of small aircraft pilots from a similar fate.

Partnership

Popov founded Ballistic Recovery Systems Inc. (now BRS Aerospace) of Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1980. He formed the company to commercialize his solution to personal aircraft accidents like the one he experienced: a whole aircraft parachute recovery system. Soon BRS was developing parachutes for hang gliders, ultralights, and experimental aircraft, and the company received Federal Aviation Administration certification for a retrofit system for the Cessna 150 GA airplane. The company’s innovative safety solution for small aircraft led to Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts with Langley Research Center aimed at advancing the BRS parachute system for use with larger and heavier GA aircraft. The NASA funding helped BRS with the development of thin-film parachutes, continuous reinforcement manufacturing methods that result in stronger parachutes, and smart deployment devices—all of which help overcome one of the main obstacles to whole-aircraft parachute systems for larger vehicles: reducing bulk and weight while maintaining parachute strength.

“You can’t have a 50-gallon drum full of parachute in the back of a Cessna. It’s not going to work,” Popov says. Just as important as the research and development funding for BRS, he says, was NASA’s support of its parachute system.

“One of our primary needs for working with NASA was to promote and encourage the concept of a ballistic parachute on aircraft,” Popov says. “There was a lot of skepticism that this system could even work. NASA was very proactive in creating a safety mentality in general aviation.”

Product Outcome

Parachute arresting the descent of an aircraft
With the help of NASA funding, BRS developed parachutes that have saved hundreds of small aircraft—and their pilots and passengers. Here, a Cirrus SR20’s parachute deploys at over 100 miles per hour, arresting the plane’s descent. BRS parachute systems are standard equipment on Cirrus aircraft.

The BRS parachute system—first featured in Spinoff 2002—is deployed by a solid rocket motor activated when the pilot pulls on the cockpit handle release. The rocket fires at over 100 miles per hour and extracts the parachute in less than 1 second. Thanks to a patented shock attenuation device, the chute opens according to the speed of the aircraft; at high speeds, the chute opens only 25 percent for the first few seconds to reduce airspeed to the point where the chute can open fully and still sustain the opening shock. (The lightweight parachute material has to sustain the force of the rocket deployment, as well as the force of the aircraft.) At low speeds and altitudes, the chute opens quickly and completely to ensure rescue.

The system’s versatility makes it effective in a range of accident situations, from mid-air collisions and structural failure to a spiral dive or stall spin. The parachute arrests the descent of the entire aircraft and deposits the vehicle and its occupants on the ground with a typical impact force equivalent to falling 7 feet, which is largely absorbed by the aircraft’s landing gear and seats. Not only are lives saved, but in many incidents, expensive aircraft are preserved to fly again.

BRS has sold more than 30,000 systems worldwide since its founding. The parachute is now standard equipment on the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 planes, the Flight Design CT light-sport aircraft (LSA), the Piper Aircraft PiperSport LSA, and as an option on the new Cessna 162 Skycatcher. The company is projecting sales of close to $20 million this year.

“Our system is standard equipment on the world’s top selling single-engine aircraft, Cirrus. It’s standard equipment on the world’s top selling LSA, the CT. The number one producer of ultralights has our product as standard equipment. You can see a trend here,” Popov says.

BRS also produces parachute systems for military unmanned aerial vehicles, military cargo parachutes, and military training aircraft recovery parachutes. On training aircraft, if the pilot has to eject, “you basically have a 5,000-pound bomb that could go unpiloted down into a neighborhood,” Popov says. “We, however, can bring down the pilot and trainer aircraft safely to the ground.”

While parachutes for larger aircraft are still in the works, BRS does have a system designed for small jets, and its NASA partnership has provided the company with the technology that may eventually enable parachutes for commercial airlines and jets. In the meantime, Popov welcomes the role NASA has played in helping turn the promise he made to himself that day at the lake into a reality for the 246 people whose lives have been saved by the BRS parachute so far.

“BRS is a classic example of taxpayers’ money being spent on research that has translated into 246 lives saved,” he says. “That’s a justifiable and profound benefit.”

He tells a favorite story about a grandfather flying a Cirrus SR20 over the Canadian Rockies with his grandkids in the back seat. The grandfather lost control of the plane, which became inverted at night in the mountains. “You’re likely not going to recover from that,” Popov says. The grandfather deployed the parachute, and the plane settled gently on the side of mountain, where a rescue helicopter found it the next day. After being hoisted out by a helicopter and flown to a nearby airstrip, they put on a new prop and landing gear and flew the plane out.

“This grandfather thought he may have just killed himself and his grandkids, but when he pulled the handle and felt the parachute deploy, he knew he had just prevented that from happening,” Popov says.

“How many millions of dollars is that worth?”

[Source]