Edwards, Calif. - NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., supported projects and efforts across NASA's four mission areas during 2008, furthering the agency's overall mission of leading the nation in aerospace technology.
From aeronautics research projects to environmental science campaigns, from supporting Space Shuttle Endeavour's landing to preparing the next-generation Orion spacecraft for flight test, NASA Dryden remained a vital part of NASA.
STS-126 Space Shuttle Landing
After an almost 16-day mission to the International Space Station, Space Shuttle Endeavour landed at Edwards at 1:25 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30. Endeavour descended under bright blue skies, a loud double sonic boom announcing its arrival over the desert airbase. Deteriorating weather conditions along Florida's east coast could have jeopardized a safe landing at the Kennedy Space Center, so mission managers decided to have Endeavour end shuttle mission STS-126 at Edwards.
As it has from the very start of the shuttle program, NASA Dryden provided unparalleled support of the landing, post-flight servicing and return of the shuttle to Kennedy for another mission.
Orion Launch Abort System Flight Test
NASA Dryden continued preparations for the Orion Launch Abort System pad abort flight test scheduled for next year, outfitting the Orion crew module test capsule with its avionics and other hardware. Critical weight, balance and vertical center of gravity measurements were performed on the vehicle as well.
Dryden is leading the Orion Abort Flight Test effort, with the first pad-abort test currently scheduled to fly next spring at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Wildfire Emergency Imaging Support
NASA Dryden responded to state fire agency requests to fly the unmanned Ikhana aircraft over much of California in early July, gathering infrared imagery to help fight more than 300 wildfires that were burning in the state. The aircraft used a sophisticated Autonomous Modular Scanner developed at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., to provide firefighters a clearer view of the fire situation on the ground.
NASA Dryden and the Northrop Grumman Corporation reached an agreement this year that will enable NASA's Science Mission Directorate to conduct Earth science research with the Northrop Grumman-developed Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system.
Under a Space Act Agreement signed April 30, NASA and Northrop Grumman will bring two pre-production Global Hawk aircraft that were transferred to NASA from the U.S. Air Force back to flight status in 2009. Northrop Grumman will share in the aircraft's use to conduct its own flight demonstrations for expanded markets, missions and airborne capabilities, including integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace.
DC-8 Airborne Laboratory
NASA and its partners, using the Agency's DC-8 flying laboratory, investigated the atmosphere's role in the arctic during the Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites (ARCTAS) field campaign.
The aircraft departed the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., for Fairbanks, Alaska, in April, with a second phase of flights over Canada in June. This extensive field campaign was one of the largest international atmospheric studies ever attempted.
The same month, the DC-8 and a Dryden ER-2 high-altitude Earth science aircraft joined scientists from the California Air Resources Board to conduct a series of research flights that examined the atmosphere over the state to better understand the chemical dynamics of smog and greenhouse gases. Using the same suite of instruments flown in the ARCTAS mission, the flights gathered samples to help the Air Resources Board obtain a better picture of greenhouse gas emission sources throughout the state.
During the summer, the DC-8 participated in the Arctic Mechanisms of Interaction Between the Surface and Atmosphere (AMISA) campaign, jointly funded by American and Swedish researchers. This research focused on acquiring atmospheric and surface interaction data during the Arctic sea ice freeze-up between Scandinavia and Greenland.
SOFIA Airborne Observatory
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program had a busy year, as the airborne observatory's primary mirror was removed, shipped to NASA Ames for finish coating, and then reinstalled in the aircraft.
Engineers and technicians from NASA, the German Space Agency and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut performed the work on the German-built mirror assembly. Technicians removed the glass mirror from the modified 747SP observatory in April and transported it to NASA Ames, where in June it received its reflective aluminum coating in a vacuum chamber. The coating, only five one-millionths of an inch thick, will be reapplied as necessary during the 20-year life of the program.
In addition, the High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultation, or HIPO, instrument was temporarily installed on SOFIA telescope Nov. 17 in order to support a study of the telescope's optical performance. HIPO takes images of the solar system rapidly at wavelengths the human eye can see. Technicians and scientists obtained more experience with the telescope while testing a number of functions, including star tracking.
The SOFIA aircraft's upper rigid door is ready for open-door flight tests in 2009.
Air Tanker Safety Study
NASA Dryden began partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service on a project to examine the mission suitability of large modified jetliners for fire retardant delivery. A DC-10 belonging to 10 Tanker Air Carrier LLC and a Boeing 747 owned by Evergreen International Aviation, Inc. are the subjects of the study. The DC-10 tanker has already been successfully employed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in past wildfire suppression missions.
NASA Dryden is aiding the Forest Service in determining the safe flight envelope for these very large air tanker aircraft for both the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Fiber Optic Technology
NASA Dryden began evaluation of an advanced, fiber optic-based sensing technology that could aid development of active control of an aircraft's wing shape.
The Fiber Optic Wing Shape Sensor system, flown on the Ikhana unmanned aircraft, measures and displays the shape of the aircraft's wings in flight. Controlling a wing's shape in flight would allow it to take advantage of aerodynamics and improve overall aircraft efficiency. The system also has potential for improving aircraft safety when the technology is used to monitor aircraft structures. The effort represents one of the first comprehensive flight validations of fiber optic sensor technology.
External Vision Project
NASA Dryden partnered with Gulfstream on the External Vision System project flown on Dryden's F-18B Systems Research Aircraft beginning this fall. The flight tests demonstrated the use of a high definition video camera and monitor system to identify human factor aspects associated with reduced visibility from the cockpit.
Some new low-sonic-boom supersonic business jet designs now on the drawing board compromise forward visibility because they have longer, streamlined noses that blend into the fuselage, eliminating the usual raised cockpit windows. The new high-definition camera system is being tested to determine its effectiveness in replacing the flight crew's normal forward visibility. Minimum display resolution requirements for safe flight and ground operations are being investigated using various camera and display resolution configurations.
X-48B Blended Wing Body
NASA Dryden and The Boeing Co. continued expanding the flight envelope for the X-48B blended wing body research aircraft. The X-48B team completed several milestones, including flying the aircraft in the slats-retracted position, and putting the aircraft through high angle-of-attack evaluations.
NASA Dryden is providing critical support to a Boeing-led project team that also includes the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and Cranfield Aerospace Ltd., of Bedford, England.
Several significant leadership changes occurred at NASA Dryden in 2008.
David McBride was named the Center's Deputy Director, replacing Steven Schmidt who was appointed Director of the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. Dennis O. Hines was appointed Associate Director of Programs, responsible for the advocacy, formulation and implementation of the center's flight projects, policy and business management of the center's programs. John G. Zellmer has been appointed Chief of Protective Services, responsible for management of the center's security, emergency preparedness and law enforcement programs.
Albion H. Bowers was named Director of the center's Aeronautics Mission Directorate, responsible for management and oversight of a variety of aeronautics-related research projects at NASA Dryden. Brent R. Cobleigh accepted the post of Director of the Exploration Mission Directorate at NASA Dryden, where he manages Dryden's support of NASA's Constellation program.
Other major administrative appointments included the naming of Lawrence Davis as Director of Flight Operations; Bradley Flick as Chief Engineer and James Harris as Director of the Test Systems Directorate.
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