Proposed NASA Budget Up
Dryden officials spoke to reporters and Dryden staff in two separate events in February about President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget request for NASA and early indications of how that will translate at the NASA center.
While the budget specifics might not be available for several weeks as NASA Headquarters works on final details, early indications are that there will be no decrease in workforce at Dryden and it is possible there could be a slight increase, Dryden Director David McBride said.
"The president and administration are showing a lot of support for the work NASA does and wants to make an investment in research, technology and education as key to the success and growth of the nation's economy. There is a lot of confidence in NASA shown in the budget request with a budget increase of more than $6 billion over five years. That gives NASA a total budget of $100 billion over the next five years," McBride added.
The NASA budget request includes a number of initiatives that will be good for Dryden, McBride said, adding, "It's a healthy and exciting budget for us."
Climate-change study initiatives include a number of missions based from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, such as Operation Ice Bridge, which continues this spring with missions to Greenland. Also in the works is a hurricane study with the Global Hawk and DC-8 this fall, called the Genesis and Rapid Intensification process, he said.
Dryden also will have roles in efforts to develop rules and technology to incorporate unmanned air systems into the national airspace. Unmanned air systems currently can fly in restricted airspace, but require special Federal Aviation Administration permission, granted on a case-by-case basis, to fly in the national airspace with piloted aircraft. Technologies such as collision avoidance and see-and-detect, concepts Dryden has researched in the past as part of other programs and projects, could be researched further.
The idea is also to recommend rules leading to a file-and-fly operation that is greatly streamlined, which is key to expansion of UAS operations. The private sector would benefit, but so would other government agencies that want to use UASs for a number of purposes, including border security, pipeline monitoring, fisheries, air sampling, and remote communications when disaster occurs, McBride said.
Dryden also expects to fly a newly acquired G-III aircraft with a laminar flow glove developed by Texas A&M University in support of the Environmentally Responsible Aviation project.
"Laminar flow is the holy grail of aviation. Laminar is smooth airflow over the wing," Mc Bride said.
Next-generation aircraft technology also is expected to look beyond tube-and-wing aircraft and at increases in aircraft efficiency by 20 to 40 percent, McBride said. Recent work on adaptive controls, or intelligent flight control systems, and digital fly-by-wire systems, the latter one of the center's historic contributions in flight research, are examples of ways Dryden can contribute. The center will also be working on verification and validation of advanced flight control concepts.
"Our goal is to take that technology to the next level, which also can be applied to future spacecraft," McBride said.
Dennis Hines, Dryden's associate director for programs, said the center's "portfolio of projects and programs for 2011 remains very robust and healthy" and that the budget is "all good news for us."
The first science work with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, will begin in fiscal year 2011, when scientists on board are scheduled to gather data using the telescope, a significant milestone, Hines said. Work will continue on space technology efforts. Also, robust relationships with government and industry will continue to grow, Hines said.
Though the Orion is part of the Constellation program, which might be cancelled, the Orion crew module pad abort test vehicle, which underwent significant integration work at Dryden, will still have its research flight this spring, McBride said. Dryden manages the pad abort vehicle tests at White Sands, N.M., for Johnson Space Center, Houston. Lessons learned from that research flight will be available for businesses that might need such a system, he added.
Regardless of the Constellation program's fate, the information from the research flight might have implications for a commercial launch vehicle to take people to space, he added. McBride emphasized the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at Headquarters will remain intact to work on new technologies.
Obama's budget request for NASA includes cancellation of the Constellation program, which was intended to return people to the moon and then send them on to Mars. McBride said the architecture for reaching that goal may have changed, but the vision remains.
Rather than the capsule-shaped hardware fashioned after the Apollo program that is at the heart of the Constellation program, a concentration on maturing propulsion technology and seeking out commercial and international partnerships is proposed. McBride likened the approach to mature a commercial space industry as similar to the early beginnings of airmail and air transportation supported by government in the 1920s and 1930s.
"A new NASA space technology program will be looking at new and innovative ways to achieve space access. NASA also will be looking for game-changing rocket and propulsion technology initiatives to support the next generation of rocket and propulsion systems. We also will see an increase in robotic missions to multiple destinations in the universe, including a very close approach to the sun. The launch of a solar dynamics observatory will give us unprecedented views of solar dynamics and better predictions of space weather," McBride said.
Southern California is home to a number of businesses seeking to pave the way to economical access to space. Potential commercial space flight partners include Mojave-based XCOR Aerospace, Scaled Composites and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - or SpaceX, for short - in Hawthorne, Calif.
NASA officials are seeking options to assist with access to the International Space Station, to which NASA has expanded commitment through 2020, McBride said. Dryden might have a role in assisting private space companies and the center will continue in its role to assist with communications to the space station.
Safely flying the shuttle for its remaining four flights (a number that does not including the shuttle launched Feb. 8) remains a priority for NASA, and Obama's budget request for the agency includes funding for fiscal year 2011 to ensure NASA can conclude the scheduled flights.
Gwen Young, Dryden acting deputy director, said funds for construction of new facilities also are included in the proposed budget. A new $5.8 million, 22,000-square-foot Dryden Consolidated Information Technology facility is expected to be complete by the end of the calendar year and funding for a new $12.5 million facilities support building, to replace trailers and buildings on the flightline, is included in the fiscal year 2011 budget request. Also included in the 2011 budget are funds for fixing roofs, replacing a 1950s-era sewer and other needed maintenance projects.
Where education is concerned, Dryden is set to participate in the Obama administration's Educate to Innovate Initiative with a "Summer of Innovation" that will include Dryden activities supporting education in the STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - disciplines. The Dryden Educator Resource Center will be rededicated, teacher workshops and undergraduate research with the DC-8 are ongoing, and Dryden's agreement with the city of Palmdale for the Aerospace Education Research and Operations, or AERO, Institute recently was renewed for three years.
In addition, Dryden will manage, for the second year, the NASA Headquarters' University Research Centers program and its $14 million in grants, which create funding for research proposals at underserved minority research institutions, Young said.
Pat Stoliker, acting associate director of operations, and Val Zelmer, Dryden chief financial officer, also represented Dryden at the Feb. 2 event announcing the budget news.
By Jay Levine