2009 Looks Busy For Dryden
Dryden Center Director Kevin L. Petersen reviewed Dryden's achievements for 2008 at a Town Hall Dec. 22 and took a glimpse ahead to 2009.
The Transforming Dryden effort, which included items such as focusing on long-term planning, resulted in some measurable changes in the makeup of the center's work, Petersen said. Three years ago the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate provided the center with funding for 81 percent of its project staff, along with 62 percent of the center's programmatic budget.
Now, the project work is more diversified, with 48 percent of Dryden's staffing dedicated to the ARMD, with the Science Mission Directorate requiring 29 percent of the center's workforce and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate needing 21 percent of Dryden's staff, he said. A lot of that work from the Science and Exploration mission directorates was acquired in the past three years, Petersen added.
From a program funding perspective, the ARMD currently supports 31 percent of Dryden's budget. The SMD is responsible for 39 percent and the ESMD comprises 28 percent, he said.
"We're rebalancing the center's portfolio and fundamentally aligning with the broader activities of the agency. This puts us in a better position for the future. If there is a major escalation or de-escalation in one area, the center is not as vulnerable as it has been in the past," Petersen said.
In fact, current projections show funding growth in the center's budget thorough 2010. That includes the potential for increases in Dryden's current budget, he said. At the same time, staffing also has stabilized. While the charts show a dip of about 30 civil servant employees from current staffing levels by 2010, retirements and new work are anticipated to result in similar employment figures, Petersen said.
Although the ARMD has seen decreasing budgets in recent years, Petersen said there is reason for optimism that there will be growth in the ARMD in the near future and interest in new flight research projects.
"It will be a constant challenge to look for new work ideas and see how we fit in with the agency. That is part of what we keep working on. The work is not done," Petersen said.
By being aware and engaging in new partnerships, the future looks bright, he said.
For example, Dryden has partnered with the SMD and U.S. Forest Service with Ikhana on wildfire missions and with Northrop Grumman for preparing the Global Hawks for missions, he said. A Jan. 15 event is scheduled to debut the Global Hawks at Dryden; it's expected that the new assets will be flown in early spring with a first science campaign in spring or early summer.
Partnering opportunities with the SMD also are expected to continue with Dryden assets such as the G-III, carrying the Uninhabited Air Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, and the DC-8 and ER-2s carrying out science missions, Petersen said.
Another partnership, with Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. on the External Vision System, also was a success. The project could aid pilots of future supersonic business jets, he said.
Successes in the ARMD included the high-angle-of-attack and slow-speed research with the X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft. A series of Ikhana flights also validated the Fiber Optic Wing Shape Sensor for the directorate, Petersen said.
Also, Intelligent Flight Control Systems work continued with F-15 no. 837, which recently has been used for supersonic research on the Lift and Nozzle Change Effects on Tail Shock, or LaNCETS project, he said. The goal of the project is to develop and validate computational prediction tools to be used in designing a civilian supersonic aircraft that can fly over land without generating unacceptable sonic booms.
Dryden's role in the ESMD with the Constellation program was highlighted at a recent NASA Headquarters meeting, Petersen said. The Abort Flight Test effort is managed at Dryden under the leadership of the Project Orion Flight Test Office at Johnson Space Center, Houston.
"We're doing our part to help Exploration and the Constellation program, and we hope they're planning more work like this in the years to come," he said.
Petersen also mentioned Dryden's support of Endeavour's Nov. 30 landing at Edwards Air Force Base, support of the efforts to return the crew to Houston and the orbiter to Florida and the departure of the shuttle Dec. 10.
"Dryden's role in the shuttle program is ongoing in readiness and sporadic in activity, but we stay ready and are ready when we're needed. It's a tribute to the folks here," Petersen said.
Another highlight in 2008 was the development of the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA aircraft has been relocated to the facility. The SOFIA work continues, including preparations for flight in 2009. In the meantime, researchers are working at night to align and check out the telescope. The DC-8 has been moved to the new facility and completed three missions from the DAOF, he said.
Petersen commended DOAF staff for their efforts to open the facility while not impacting schedules of planned missions. An open house set for early next year will give people a chance to visit the facility.
Another project expected to fly in 2009 is the F-16 Automated Collision Avoidance Technology, or ACAT, aircraft. The current project will look at ground-collision avoidance, but there is potential for an airborne-collision avoidance flight series. In all, the aircraft could be active on the project for two to three years.
Dryden's strong set of capabilities and able staff are ready for the future, Petersen said.
"We have a healthy fleet of aircraft and facilities. We had a great year, and we can't let up. We must keep pressing and looking for new opportunities. Our workforce here is second to none and it allows us to do these projects," he concluded.
By Jay Levine