NASA Headquarters and Centers

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Research and technology play a vital role in ensuring the safety, environmental compatibility, and productivity of the air transportation system and in enhancing the economic health and national security of the Nation.

Supporting NASA's Aeronautics and Space Transportation Enterprise, Langley Research Center is the Center of Excellence in structures and materials. This center draws upon some 80 years of research, a heritage dating back to 1917 when the center was established.

Langley Research Center is located in Hampton, Virginia and was the first research laboratory for NASA's predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The center bore basic responsibility for bolstering the U.S. aviation industry from its earliest beginnings to the position of world leadership that is enjoyed today. From general aviation and cargo-carrying aircraft to hypersonic aircraft and reusable space launchers, Langley is researching, developing, verifying, and transferring advanced aeronautics, space, and related technologies.

A leading example of Langley expertise is embodied within the NASA Hyper-X program, geared to demonstrate supersonic-combustion ramjet (scramjet) technologies. Conducted jointly by Langley and the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, the program seeks to demonstrate air-breathing engine technologies. Such an engine promises to increase payload capacity for future vehicles from hypersonic aircraft to reusable space launchers. By using the oxygen drawn in from the atmosphere--breathing in the air--a scramjet propulsion system permits the discarding of heavy oxygen and associated tanks that rockets must carry for propulsion. NASA has selected a team led by MicroCraft, Inc., Tullahoma, Tennessee, to fabricate a series of small, unpiloted experimental Hyper-X vehicles capable of flying up to ten times the speed of sound. Langley's eight-foot high temperature wind tunnel is on tap to test Hyper-X vehicle designs.

computer generated image of the concept Hyper-X aircraft
Hyper-X program features testing of unpiloted aircraft that will fly up to ten times the speed of sound (7,000 mph) to demonstrate "air-breathing" engine technologies.

Langley's Thermal Structures Branch has been busy validating a composite intertank structure for the Advanced Space Transportation Program (ASTP). You could say the testing was a snap. The test article was subjected to uniform compression loads to simulate critical load conditions experienced during launch. The 22-by 10-foot part was deliberately broken. For the United States to remain competitive in launching spacecraft, it is necessary to develop a launch system that is lightweight, robust, requires little maintenance or inspection, and has low-cost operations as part of its design features. Langley's ASTP is developing various ways of achieving that goal.

Stepping down in speed, Langley Research Center is also leading a national aviation safety initiative, whose goal is to reduce the aircraft accident rate fivefold within ten years, and tenfold in the next two decades. "Flying already is the safest way to travel. Now it will be even safer," says Jeremiah Creedon, director of NASA Langley. In partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the aviation industry, research is underway to reduce human error-caused accidents and incidents, predict and prevent mechanical and software malfunctions, and eliminate accidents involving hazardous weather and controlled flight into terrain.

Langley is also working with a consortium led by TRW, Inc., Redondo Beach, California, to demonstrate in-flight a weather-piercing camera that allows researchers to see through fog, smoke, and clouds. The work supports NASA's goal to safely triple capacity at the nation's commercial airports within the next ten years, regardless of conditions that can restrict safe landings and takeoffs of aircraft from airports. The Passive Millimeter Wave Camera project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and is managed by Langley.

In August 1997, Langley researchers demonstrated technology under the Low Visibility Landing and Surface Operations program. NASA's 757 research aircraft was involved in a month-long series of tests that involved computer-generated graphics that outline the correct runway, taxi path, and their precise location on a glass visor mounted between the pilot and cockpit windshield. While taxiing on the airport surface, aircraft position is shown on an electronic moving map on the instrument panel, along with the positions of other active aircraft at the terminal. This activity brought together Langley and Ames Research Center, the FAA, the Volpe National Transportation System Center, and several industry partners.

Two engineers inspect a passive millimeter wave camera
Engineers inspect a passive millimeter wave camera, a weather-piercing camera designed to "see" through fog, clouds, smoke, and dust. NASA Langley is working with a TRW-led industry consortium and the Department of Defense on the project.

Langley is helping to advance light plane technologies and revitalize the entire U.S. light plane industry through joint leadership of the Advanced General Aviation Transport Experiments (AGATE) program. This ambitious goal includes working to ensure that light aircraft of the future are dramatically easier to fly, more affordable and safer. For instance, in the safety area, Langley is working with private companies to create airbag technology and energy-absorbing composite structures to protect occupants in small airplanes against fatal injuries. Under AGATE, several airplanes have been crash tested at the Langley Impact Dynamics Facility to demonstrate an improved shoulder harness system and energy-absorbing seats.

Widespread use of composite materials has spurred Langley to sponsor development of Advanced Stitching Machine (ASM) technology under a NASA Advanced Composites Technology program. Partnering with Boeing, an ASM was fabricated that promises to aid in the making of large structures from composites. The goal of program is to make composite wing structures twenty-five percent lighter, to reduce production costs by twenty percent, and to reduce operating costs to airlines. This initiative shows how far aeronautics technology has evolved from the World War II image of "Rosie the Riveter" bolting together segments of metal airplanes.

Langley materials scientists have created a high-performance composite material with a potential market of several billion dollars. In 1997, Langley's PETI-5 was selected in a worldwide competition as one of the 100 most technologically significant new products and processes of that year. This high temperature resin has been selected for use in a U.S. supersonic civil airliner expected to be built early in the next century. The PETI technology has already been transferred to industry with licensing agreements to four different companies. Since

currently available metals are either too heavy or cannot withstand the high temperatures created when flying at 2.4 times the speed of sound, composite materials made from graphite fibers and PETI-5 are necessary to both withstand the high temperatures and to make the plane strong enough and light enough to be economically viable.

NASA and industry have teamed to develop the technology necessary to build an economically viable supersonic civil transport, able to carry approximately 300 passengers. This plane--dubbed the High Speed Civil Transport--would halve the flight times from California to Japan, an objective that Langley researchers are confident can be attained. The work is sponsored by the joint High Speed Research Program.


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