As NASA's lead center for space transportation systems and development, and the Center of Excellence for space propulsion, the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, leads NASA's mission to develop safe, reliable, and affordable space transportation systems. The Center also maintains propulsion systems for America's current space fleet.
Marshall leads NASA's efforts in microgravity research--experiments conducted in the low gravity inside orbiting spacecraft--as well as in the development of space optics manufacturing technologies. The Center also delivers practical applications of NASA space research and technologies here on Earth.
Marshall is managing the Space Launch Initiative, NASA's comprehensive research and technology development effort to dramatically increase the safety, reliability, and affordability of space transportation systems. The initiative calls for a focused investment of $4.8 billion through fiscal year 2006 to develop concepts and technologies needed to create a second generation reusable launch vehicle--one that is expected to be 10 times cheaper and 100 times safer than today's space launch systems.
The Advanced Space Transportation Program at Marshall looks beyond second generation systems, keying on flying third and fourth generation reusable launch vehicles. These programs are tackling the difficult task of lowering the current $10,000-per-pound cost of putting payloads into space--first to $1,000 per pound, then to as low as $100 per pound.
To reach these goals requires revolutionary aerospace technologies--from magnetic, chemical, and propellantless propulsion systems to new energy sources such as space solar power or antimatter propulsion. These and other advances are now being studied, developed, and tested at Marshall.
The Center leads NASA's government team in development and testing of the X-37 space plane, which is expected to make history as the first reusable demonstrator to fly in both orbital and reentry environments. Designed to demonstrate dozens of advanced airframe, avionics, and operations technologies that can support various launch vehicle and spacecraft designs, the X-37 will travel up to 25 times the speed of sound, remain in orbit up to 21 days, and land on a conventional runway.
Marshall scientists and engineers routinely contribute to new processes and technology innovations in areas as diverse as manufacturing, communications, and electronics. Microgravity research conducted in Earth orbit furthers our understanding of critical biological, chemical, and physical processes--opening doors to the commercial development of space.
Until recently, microgravity research was limited to relatively short-duration Space Shuttle flights. This changed with the addition of the Destiny Laboratory Module to the International Space Station in 2001. One of numerous Space Station elements built and tested at Marshall, Destiny allows for long-duration microgravity experiments and is the premier laboratory for this research.
As Space Station construction continues in orbit, the Center maintains a key role in hardware development and science operations for the orbiting research outpost. Marshall is overseeing development of Station Nodes 2 and 3modules that serve as hubs for distribution of water, electrical power, and thermal controls for the Space Station--as well as the Station's Environmental Control and Life Support System, a water recycling and oxygen generation system.
Marshall also oversees development and operation of the Space Station's Multipurpose Logistics Modules, Italian-built modules that will carry laboratory racks filled with equipment, experiments, and supplies to and from the Station.
With more than 30 years' experience developing optical systems for space exploration, Marshall leads NASA's space optics manufacturing technology development, including optics design, fabrication, testing, and analysis.
The Space Optics Manufacturing Technology Center at Marshall is spearheading NASA's development of advanced, ultra-lightweight optics materials, fabrication technologies, precise measurement standards, and state-of-the-art test facilities. The Center currently supports NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center by leading optics technology development for the Next Generation Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The Center is also developing ultra-lightweight optics for the Constellation X-ray mission, the successor to the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was designed and developed at Marshall and launched with spectacular results in 1999.
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