About aeronautics at NASA
The first "A" in NASA stands for "aeronautics." The agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate works to solve the challenges that still exist in our nation's air transportation system: air traffic congestion, safety and environmental impacts.
NASA’s aeronautics research programs conduct fundamental, cutting-edge research into new aircraft technologies, as well as high-level research on how to integrate more efficient air traffic management operations and innovative technologies into the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). Another program manages a portfolio of wind tunnels, flight research facilities, support aircraft and the evolution of test technologies at NASA centers around the country.
› Learn more about NASA’s aeronautics research portfolio
NASA's Ames Research Center promotes NASA's objectives in aeronautics by providing concepts and technologies that make an impact on the efficiency and safety of flight in the U.S.
Ames primarily enables the Next Generation Air Transportation System through the development of air traffic control automation technologies.
Ames also provides national research and development capabilities in wind tunnel testing and flight simulation, and promotes aviation safety by developing software to predict, detect and diagnose hazards to aviation.
› Learn more about aeronautics at NASA Ames
Featured example: NextGen air traffic management research and development
Who's researching the future of commercial air traffic management?
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Researchers at NASA Ames are creating and testing automation concepts to allow up to three times today's level of aircraft in the National Airspace System, which accounts for the management of the combined commercial, military and civilian flights over the U.S. NASA Ames is actively researching, developing and testing innovative automation solutions, including concepts, technologies and procedures to identify the most promising capabilities to achieve NextGen.
NASA Ames has already developed products that directly benefit the flying public. One example is the Traffic Management Advisor (TMA), which has recently been deployed nationwide by the FAA. TMA helps air traffic controllers schedule aircraft into busy airports and has resulted in airport capacity increases of 3 to 5 percent. There have also been reductions in aircraft holding around busy airports. Another technology is the Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA), which enables Continuous Descent Approaches, a concept that allows aircraft to fly a continuous, gliding descent at low engine power, thereby minimizing fuel consumption, environmental emissions, and noise pollution.
Featured example: Wind tunnels
How do you test aircraft and spacecraft before putting them in the sky?
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Since the time of the Wright brothers, researchers have used wind tunnels to design better aircraft, and now, space vehicles as well. A wind tunnel moves air past a stationary object, making it seem like the object is flying, so before a vehicle even leaves the ground, engineers can test it to make sure it will fly as expected.
NASA Ames offers supersonic and transonic testing services in the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel complex, where generations of commercial and military aircraft as well as NASA space vehicles, including the space shuttle, have been designed and tested.
An example of how a wind tunnel was used to test a vehicle already in flight happened in 2005. A wind tunnel test was performed on the Space Shuttle 3% scale model to investigate whether a torn insulation blanket on STS-114 would prevent its safe return to Earth. In less than two days, the Ames Wind Tunnel Division, working with Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center, defined a wind tunnel test, developed, fabricated, and installed the test hardware in the Ames 11' x 11' wind tunnel, and executed the test that resulted in the okay for the shuttle to return to Earth.
Featured example: Intelligent systems for aviation safety
With systems getting increasingly complex, how do you study how parts of the whole will react to different conditions?
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Researchers at NASA Ames support NASA’s goals in aviation safety by developing technologies to safely manage increasing complexity in the design and operation of vehicles and the air transportation system.
One goal of our aviation safety research is to be able to better predict system faults before they occur. Researchers at Ames are developing efficient methods for battery life monitoring that could greatly improve the reliability of battery-powered systems. Advanced battery health monitoring systems and prognostic algorithms will help researchers answer questions like, “Given the health of the battery, is there enough charge left to complete the current mission?” and “Can future missions be completed on the remaining charge?”