NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., helped advance the agency’s overall mission of Earth and space science and aerospace technology research as it continued supporting NASA’s four mission areas during 2013.
X-48 Blended/Hybrid Wing Body
The subscale X-48C remotely piloted aircraft completed an eight-month flight research campaign last April to evaluate the low-speed stability and control characteristics of a proposed future Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) aircraft design. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and Boeing funded the technology demonstration effort, which supported NASA’s goals of reduced fuel burn, emissions, and noise.
UAS in the NAS
Dryden is spearheading the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System, or UAS in the NAS, project that focuses on reducing safety and technical barriers and operational challenges associated with flying unmanned aircraft in the same airspace shared by commercial and civil air traffic.
Five sub-projects focus on assurance of safe separation of unmanned aircraft from manned aircraft when flying in the same airspace; safety-critical command and control systems and radio frequencies to enable safe operation of UAS; human factors issues for ground control stations; airworthiness certification standards for UAS avionics, and integrated tests and evaluation to determine the viability of emerging UAS technology. Dryden is planning integrated human-in-the-loop testing with a piloted aircraft acting as a surrogate UAS in 2014.
In September, researchers used a ground-based telescope and digital camera system to capture images of shock waves emanating from airplanes traveling at supersonic speeds. Images taken with the Ground-to-Air Schlieren Photography System will help validate computer simulations and wind tunnel test data used in designing future supersonic aircraft.
In partnership with Aerion Corporation of Reno, Nev., Dryden studied supersonic airflow over a small experimental airfoil design on its F-15B Test Bed aircraft last spring in the second phase of the Supersonic Boundary Layer Transition project. Testing the airfoil at actual supersonic speeds enabled engineers to capture data that will allow more precise refinement of supersonic natural laminar flow airfoil design
Active Compliant Trailing Edge Flight Experiment
NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory are conducting the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge flight research project to determine if flexible trailing-edge wing flaps can both improve aircraft efficiency and reduce airport-area noise generated during takeoffs and landings. Researchers are preparing to replace the conventional 19-foot-long aluminum flaps on a modified Gulfstream III business aircraft with advanced, shape changing flaps that form continuous bendable surfaces.
Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research
The Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research program is a joint project of NASA, the Air Force, and jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney to test a number of engine health monitoring sensors. These include an emissions sensor system to monitor the output of carbon, oxygen, and other gases; a self-diagnostic accelerometer; high-frequency vibration sensors; inlet-debris monitoring sensors, and a high-fidelity fuel flow measurement system. Engineers are putting the sensors through a series of ground tests at Dryden on the engines of a retired C-17 on loan from the Air Force.
The remotely piloted X-56A Multi-Use Technology Test bed was developed by the AFRL and Lockheed Martin to test active aeroelastic control technologies for flutter suppression and gust-load alleviation of thin, lightweight flexible wings. It was first flown with a stiff wing in August and will soon fly with one of three sets of flexible wings. After completing tests for AFRL, the X-56A will be transferred to Dryden to support research on flexible wings for future transport aircraft. By using active control to suppress the flutter of slender, flexible wings, NASA is hoping to achieve a 25 percent reduction in wing structural weight, and enable a 30 to 40 percent increase in aspect ratio to reduce drag.
Earth and Space Science
Global Hawk Earth Science Missions
NASA sent an autonomous Global Hawk UAS over the Pacific Ocean to study climate change in January during the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment multi-year airborne science campaign. In August, two Global Hawks were deployed to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for the Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS-3) mission. This was the first simultaneous deployment of both aircraft, the first use of a mobile Global Hawk operations center that was deployed to Wallops for the campaign.
Dryden and Northrop Grumman Corporation extended a no-cost Space Act Agreement that enables NASA to conduct Earth science research with the Global Hawk for an additional five years through April 30, 2018 while providing a platform for the company’s further development testing of upgrades for the Global Hawk fleet.
DC-8 Flying Laboratory
A series of flights in March used NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory to study the effects of alternate biofuel on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitude. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions effort involved flying the DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet while an instrumented HU-25 Falcon aircraft trailed behind at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 10 miles.
In June and July, more than 30 undergraduate students participated in NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program. While flying aboard the DC-8, the students measured pollution and air quality in the Los Angeles basin and in California’s San Joaquin Valley and used remote sensing instruments to study forest ecology in the Sierra Nevada and ocean biology along the California coast.
For the Polarimeter Definition Experiment mission in January, the ER-2 carried an instrument that provides detailed information about aerosols and clouds. A few months later, the ER-2 flew the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager campaign that used spectrometers to collect data under cloud-free daylight conditions during the spring, summer and fall over six diverse areas of California. During August and September, the ER-2 and NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory were deployed to Ellington Field in Houston for the Studies of Emission, Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys mission to learn more about how vertical air pollution and natural emissions affect climate change in the United States.
In March, NASA’s C-20A that carries the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar completed a mission that studied the dynamics of Earth’s crust, glaciers and the lives of ancient Peruvian civilizations over the U.S. Gulf Coast, Arizona, and Central and South America. The aircraft flew the Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer – Airborne mission over the Sierra Nevada, Beaufort Sea and Alaska in April. The project studied surface movement of Japanese and Hawaiian volcanoes in November.
SOFIA Airborne Observatory
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy was deployed to New Zealand for three weeks in July, taking advantage of the Southern Hemisphere’s orientation to study celestial objects that are difficult or impossible to see in the northern sky. The mission provided an opportunity for 26 educators from across the U.S. to fly aboard SOFIA as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors while astronomers used SOFIA to observe a disk of gas and dust orbiting the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and two nearby dwarf galaxies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
Commercial Crew Program
Following tow tests and a captive carry flight in August, NASA partner Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colo., accomplished the first free-flight approach and landing test flight of the Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle Oct. 26. Although an anomaly with the left landing gear deployment occurred, automated flight controls steered the craft to its intended glide slope, a smooth flare and touchdown on runway centerline.
Flight Opportunities Program
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, funded several commercial suborbital space companies under contract to provide flights for researchers whose technologies are of interest to NASA to help meet the agency’s research and technology needs.
Masten Space Systems’ “Xombie” rocket-powered, vertical-landing technology demonstrator reached its highest altitude and furthest distance to date March 25 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., using Draper Labs GENIE developmental navigation system designed to land a space vehicle on other celestial bodies. This kind of experiment allows NASA to test prototype instruments for future Moon or Mars missions under realistic conditions without leaving Earth.
Masten’s Xombie again rose above the desert this past summer to test NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s G-FOLD, or Fuel Optimal Large Divert Guidance, algorithm for planetary pinpoint landings. This algorithm could revolutionize how we land future rovers on other planets by optimizing fuel usage in selecting where the vehicle will land.
Oregon’s Near Space Corporation launched several Flight Opportunities technologies on their high-altitude balloon, reaching heights of nearly 102,000 feet.
Another vendor, Colorado’s UP Aerospace, launched two of its SpaceLoft rockets from New Mexico’s Spaceport America in 2013 that carried a variety of technology payloads for the Flight Opportunities Program. The two sounding rockets provided several minutes of microgravity conditions for the experimental payloads.
The Flight Opportunities Program was not limited to rockets and balloons, as it also funded flights on Zero-G Corporation’s modified Boeing 727 on parabolic flights. One technology, Made in Space’s 3-D printer, was flown on the 727, demonstrating the technology worked in near-space conditions preparatory to being launched to the International Space Station.
Space Launch System Development
The Launch Vehicle Adaptive Control experiment used a Dryden F/A-18 aircraft to evaluate an Adaptive Augmenting Controller developed by engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center for the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. The system has been designed to autonomously adjust to unexpected environmental or vehicle conditions during actual flight rather than to preflight predictions. The ability to make real-time adjustments to the autopilot provides enhanced performance and increased safety for the crew.
Construction of the new Facilities Support Center at NASA Dryden was completed this fall, with occupancy planned for early 2014 once furniture is installed. Built by Comfort and Hays Electric, Inc. of Long Beach, Calif., the $11.2 million, 38,000-square-foot structure was designed by the Development One architectural firm of Santa Ana, Calif., to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification standard for environmental and energy efficiency.