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Spinoff 1997

 
Langley Research Center
NASA Headquarters and Centers

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Langley Research Center, established in 1917 as the first national civil aeronautical laboratory, has been shaping U.S. aeronautical and space prowess for some 80 years.

Situated in Hampton, Virginia, Langley served as the first research laboratory for NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In this unique role, the center bore basic responsibility for nourishing U.S. aviation from infancy to world leadership. Dozens of wind tunnels and other distinctive facilities are at the disposal of researchers to aid in the investigation of the full flight range--from general aviation and transport aircraft to hypersonic vehicles and reusable rocketry.

Langley is NASA's Center of Excellence in airframe systems and leads in airborne systems, structures and materials, aerodynamics, mission and systems analysis, and crew station design and integration. The center leads the Agency's Advanced Subsonic Technology (AST) program and the NASA-industry High Speed Research program (HSR). Langley also leads efforts in hypersonic propulsion, and is one of four centers that is integral to NASA's Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise. A goal is to develop technologies to enable aircraft to fly faster, farther, safer and to be more maneuverable, quieter, less expensive to manufacture and more energy efficient.

In 1973, one major effort at Langley was orchestrating NASA's research into use of LIDAR (laser-radar) to monitor atmospheric pollution. The overall purpose was to measure the aerosols at various levels of the lower atmosphere. By studying the "residence" times of the aerosols at particular sites, the movement and redistribution of particles over the long term could be assessed.

Conducted jointly by Langley and Dryden Flight Research Center, the Hyper-X program will demonstrate technology that could ultimately be applied to vehicles from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space launchers. When the Hyper-X flies, it will be the first time a non-rocket engine has powered a vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds.

 

Upon arrival of the 1973-1974 energy crisis that swept across America, Langley also sought to identify any and all ways to use airplane fuel more efficiently. This endeavor was manifested in the Aircraft Energy Efficiency (ACEE) program. An inventory of then-available and future technologies that could be used by aircraft manufacturers was a thrust of ACEE. Langley's specific research for ACEE was in the areas of materials, structures and aerodynamics.

Casting an eye toward the passenger jet of the future, Langley is now working on next-generation supersonic aircraft capable of moving 300 people at more than 1,500 miles per hour--more than twice the speed of sound. The High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) would cross the Pacific or Atlantic in less than half the time of modern subsonic jets. Better yet, the travel would be affordable--at a ticket price less than 20 percent above comparable, slower flights!

HSR is supported by a team of major U.S. aerospace companies in a multi-year research program that started in 1990. The international stakes are high, and for good reason. It is estimated that the market for more than 500 HSCTs between the years 2000 and 2015 translates to more than $200 billion in sales. There is the potential for 140,000 new jobs in the United States to bring about HSCT development.

A NASA pilot makes a "windowless landing" aboard a NASA 737 research aircraft in flight tests aimed at developing technology for a future supersonic airliner. Cameras in the nose of the airplane relay images to a computer screen in the otherwise blind research cockpit.

 

Langley's High-Speed Research initiatives also consists of the "SuperVIEW" cockpit. SuperVIEW stands for the Supersonic Video Integrated Electronic Window. Forward cockpit windows in future supersonic passenger aircraft may be replaced by large displays with video and infrared images, enhanced by computer-generated graphics. SuperVIEW displays would guide pilots to the airport, warn them of other aircraft near the flight path, and provide cues for airport approaches and landings.

Another initiative is the Hyper-X program, an Agency-wide effort to address one of the greatest aeronautical research challenges--hypersonic flight. Conducted jointly by Langley and Dryden Flight Research Center, program managers hope to demonstrate technology that could ultimately be applied to vehicles from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space launchers. MicroCraft, Inc., of Tullahoma, Tennessee, was selected to fabricate a series of small, unpiloted experimental vehicles that will fly up to ten times the speed of sound. When the Hyper-X flies, it will be the first time a non-rocket engine has powered a vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds--speeds above Mach 5, equivalent to about one mile per second or approximately 3,600 miles per hour at sea level. A booster rocket will carry each experimental vehicle to its flight -test speed and altitude, where it will be launched to fly under its own power.

Concepts of the Space Station in the early 1970s could not predict the advances in building structures in space in the late 1990s. Langley is currently fabricating high-precision deployable structures that remain fixed and steady within an accuracy of four millionths of a inch.

 

Langley also plays a critical role in short-circuiting the decline of general aviation. A revitalization of general aviation--all flying except the military services and commercial airlines--is a must, as is recovering a leadership position in this arena. To this end, an Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE) consortium is directed by the Langley head of a general aviation office. AGATE is a partnership between government, industry and academia to stem the gradual deterioration of general aviation in the United States.

An assignment Langley is undertaking clearly draws from decades of aeronautical work. New and innovative technologies are being explored to expand piloted and unpiloted space flight, but at the same time, lower the cost of routine access to orbit. Similar to work done in support of the now-flying Space Shuttle, Langley researchers are assisting industry to develop and introduce the next generation of space vehicles. One top priority is a fully reusable spacecraft, a single-stage-to -orbit (SSTO). The goal is to reuse vehicle components and eliminate multi-stage rocketry. To this end, Langley is assisting Lockheed Martin and Marshall Space Flight Center in developing and testing the X-33, an SSTO prototype slated to fly in 1999.

If America's 21st century space program is to be bold, advances in building structures in space are necessary. Need has evolved for affordable, higher precision structures that can keep sensors accurately trained on targets.

Langley is fabricating high-precision deployable structures that remain fixed and steady within an accuracy of four millionths of a inch. Next generation gamma ray telescopes, as well as other types of telescopes to search for, find and study Earth-like planets circling distant stars demand such precision. Space structures are a springboard for many near- and deep-space missions, and Langley is part of this exciting challenge.


NASA log - Link Office of the Chief Technologist Image of cover Spinoff 2010 NASA Hallmarks of success videos