If a NASA technology improves the daily lives of people nationwide, and even worldwide, then commercialization has achieved its goal.
Over the last 40 years, technology developed at the Glenn Research Center has been commercialized to the extent that most people in the United States and in many other parts of the world come into contact with Glenn-developed technology every day.
Many serendipitous spinoffs resulted from NASA's work in the early 1960s. The Agency realized that industry could benefit from the vast amount of research performed at the Cleveland facility (then the Lewis Research Center) and began to proactively apply its efforts to assist industry with their technical needs. The Technology Utilization Office was established at the Lewis Research Center in 1963 as a result of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, and also as an avenue for public access to NASA technologies. Glenn has made significant contributions in the spinoff arena since the inception of the Spinoff publication in the early 1970s. During the Apollo era, before the publication was established, the Center's technology innovations included rechargeable batteries for small tools, such as cordless drills. In the late 1970s, technology for textured medical implants and a cataract removal tool were developed. More recent spinoffs include the Atomic Oxygen Art Restoration process, Moen's LifeShine® faucet finish, and the Tempest/Embedded Web technology, originally developed for Internet use on the International Space Station, but later transferred to industry with a variety of uses for remote monitoring.
Glenn's work in the 1990s with General Electric on the GE90 turbofan engine is considered to be one of its most significant spinoffs. The overwhelming majority of travelers using commercial transportation for long distance travel now fly in jet transports. Glenn has been NASA's lead center for gas turbine (jet) engines. In recent years, emphasis has been on quieting these engines, both to improve passenger comfort and reduce ground noise around airports. Thanks in no small part to quiet engine technology developed at Glenn, the aircraft flying today are much quieter than the aircraft flying in the 1960s. Beginning with the Energy Efficient Engine program in the 1970s, the Center developed fuel-efficient technology used in current jet engines, like the GE90 high-bypass turbofan. In addition, jet engine emissions, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx), have been significantly reduced. This research resulted in commercial jet aircraft that are more environmentally friendly, and allow for lower costs for the flying consumer.
Air travel in bad weather is safer due to improvements in aircraft icing detection and in-flight ice removal developed by Glenn's Aircraft Icing Research group. One of the Center's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contractors, Cox & Company, worked with Glenn researchers to develop the first new aircraft ice protection system to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in 40 years.
General aviation has not been ignored. Glenn recently completed a program to help develop a new generation of general aviation aircraft engines. One of these is the Williams International EJ22, which will power the new "air taxi" currently being developed by Eclipse Aviation Corporation, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The company developed the groundbreaking Eclipse 500 aircraft, creating a new class of twinjet light aircraft that could allow passengers to use smaller, less congested airports closer to their homes.
Glenn-developed technology in the area of satellite communications may affect the life of the average person more than anything else. The Commercial Technology Satellite (CTS) launched in 1976 increased the power of satellite-relayed signals by a factor of 20 over previous commercial satellites (COMSATS), and produced the technology that made possible the explosion in satellite television (TV) channels. For its efforts, Glenn was awarded an "Emmy" award by the television industry. Traveling-wave-tube technology developed for CTS was applied to "Klystron" power tubes used in ultra high frequency (UHF) TV transmitters, doubling their efficiency and making it possible for UHF stations to significantly increase their broadcast range with no additional power usage.
This pioneering work was further developed by the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) Program. ACTS opened new communications frequency bands, greatly increasing the number of messages COMSATS could carry. This is particularly important for geosynchronous (stationary) satellites, because they all occupy a single orbit where there is limited space. The efficiency of COMSATS is increased by spot beam antenna technology pioneered on ACTS. Instead of blanketing an area, a spot beam antenna can concentrate its beams on more important areas, such as populated regions as opposed to lakes and desert lands.
A fact not normally appreciated by the general public is that the service life of a stationary satellite is limited more by the fuel supply needed for its attitude-adjusting rockets than by the durability of its components. These satellites have to be kept in line with the millions of stationary satellite dish antennas in use. However, gravitational forces from the Moon, Sun, and other planets can skew the satellites out of line. Several times a year, small rocket engines are fired to realign them. The NASA Glenn Onboard Propulsion Branch has improved the efficiency of these small rockets and developed new types of small attitude rockets that have increased the useful lives of satellites by 50 percent. Considering that it costs between $500 million and $750 million to build and launch a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit, this increase in service life results in a considerable cost savings to the COMSAT companies, and the savings are passed on to the consumer in the form of reduced rates. Much new Glenn technology has spun off to the medical field. In the early 1970s, work on advanced rocket and gas turbine materials helped improve the biocompatibility of artificial hip and knee joints. Research on ion rocket engines led to pioneering the texturing of implants to encourage human tissue to grow into the implant. More recently, turbopump design technology originally developed for cryogenic fuel turbopumps in rocket engines was used to help develop a small turbopump that will be installed in humans to assist damaged hearts.
Several new biotechnology and biomedical applications are being developed at Glenn. One microgravity researcher is currently developing "space-vision goggles" to be used by astronauts and other future space travelers to allow physicians to remotely monitor their health. Glenn's ACTS project has demonstrated the ability to transmit high-resolution mammograms and echocardiographic images from remote regions to major medical clinics. This has the potential to give people living in rural, low-population, and economically depressed areas direct access to the best medical teams in the world. Also, an atomic oxygen process developed at Glenn is being used in a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, employing a polymer lattice for the growth of cellular tissue for reconstructive surgery.
Glenn's spinoff applications are vast and delve into many technology areas. From aerospace, transportation, and biomedical applications to materials and sensor development, our technology transfer projects touch lives every day.
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