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Center's future linked to mission directorate
Feb. 2005
 
Dryden employees got a glimpse Jan. 6 of how the Center's activities fit in the goals of NASA's Exploration Systems mission directorate and how Dryden could play a bigger role in those goals in the future. Rear Adm. Craig E. Steidle, U.S. Navy (Ret.), NASA's associate administrator for Exploration Systems, delivered the preview.

Rear Adm. Craig E. Steidle, U.S. Navy (Ret.), at left, NASA's associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, explained to Dryden employees during a recent visit what role the Center will play in the directorate's work.  NASA Photo by Tom Tschida Image Right: Rear Adm. Craig E. Steidle, U.S. Navy (Ret.), at left, NASA's associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, explained to Dryden employees during a recent visit what role the Center will play in the directorate's work. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida

The event also featured remarks by Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory; Gwendolyn Sykes, NASA's chief financial officer and chief acquisitions officer; and Johnny Stephenson, One NASA team leader. As stated, One NASA is a philosophy and policy that focuses all NASA centers and resources on successful mission completion.

Also at the presentation were Bobby Watkins, Exploration Systems assistant associate administrator, and Deb Duarte from Headquarters' One NASA office.

The presentation was part of the ongoing One NASA Leader-Led Workshop series being conducted at each NASA center and at Headquarters.

"The (workshop series) was established to explain the vision for space exploration and where the Agency is in that effort, and how each center will play a part in it," said John Childress, Dryden One NASA point of contact.

Dryden's fortunes currently are linked to the Agency's Vehicle Systems Office and work with Uninhabited Air Vehicles, or UAVs, but Center officials are watching for opportunities emerging in other areas, such as those deriving from Exploration Systems.

Dryden researcher Dan Banks, for example, recently won a $4 million NASA award for development of an Aero-Assist Mars Transfer Vehicle System Technology Design. This is a two-year, advanced study of aerodynamic concepts to explore the potential for their use in design of future space vehicles. The project will examine the potential for incorporating into vehicle design aerodynamic maneuvers that, among other things, could be used to lessen the reliance on conventional propulsion systems as well as reducing the need for - and weight of - propellants that are required.

Specific technologies to be studied include a concept called lifting aerocapture, for approaching Mars. Banks explained that this would involve use of aerodynamic forces in a planet's outer atmosphere to slow a vehicle as it approaches, allowing it to be "captured" and its trajectory controlled through aerodynamics.

During his participation in a Jan. 6 One NASA Led Workshop at Dryden,  Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory spoke about some of the changes and challenges currently being faced at NASA. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida Image Right: During his participation in a Jan. 6 One NASA Led Workshop at Dryden, Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory spoke about some of the changes and challenges currently being faced at NASA. NASA Photo by Tom Tschida

A second concept is that of aero-assisted orbital maneuvering of spacecraft, which would utilize aerodynamics to augment the role of conventional propulsion systems in changing a spacecraft's orbit. A final concept to be examined is aero-gravity assist, which will involve study of using aerodynamic forces in conjunction with gravity from flybys of inner planets possessing atmospheres to give spacecraft a boost of speed. The latter would have applications for possible missions from Earth to Mars using a trajectory via Venus, or trajectories for abort or return of the spacecraft en route to Mars.

Banks said the study will include development of a conceptual design of vehicles to perform these studies, based on high-fidelity simulations, to determine net costs and benefits of the use of such maneuvers and vehicles.

In addition to the Aero-Assist Mars Transfer Vehicle System Technology Design, Steidle said Dryden is tasked with management of a $40 million project aimed at development and test of an aft heat shield for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV.

Additional CEV-related work for which Dryden could be tapped, Steidle said, includes parachutes, crew escape systems and flight research work. Other Center contributions could include development of solar or hypersonic technology (though it's not expected that technology will be mature for use in the CEV), intelligent flight control systems, new vehicle configurations and planetary vehicles.

"Opportunities for the future are vast," Steidle said.

Design of the CEV is expected to be complete in 18 months to two years, with applicable technologies flight demon-strated in 2008. A ship capable of returning to the moon is expected to be complete in 15 to 20 years.

A common theme in all speakers' presentations was that, in light of events of the past several years, from the Columbia accident, reports and analysis to President George W. Bush's call for missions to the moon and Mars, the Agency is evolving to meet the challenges of a new day.

Center Director Kevin L. Petersen, through informal town hall meetings with Dryden employees, has worked to keep awareness of the dynamic environment high and to keep Center personnel abreast of what the changes will mean for Dryden. The Dryden management team also has streamlined and restructured both its own organization and Center processes, to be better able to react to change and advocate Dryden's strengths to new generations of customers that might not be as well informed about the glories of Dryden's past.

Dryden officials are and have been heeding Steidle's counsel, working toward keeping themselves and others informed and continuing to watch for opportunities.

Dryden's Jim Stewart and Rodger Romans, for example, are Center liaisons with the Exploration Systems mission directorate, and are watching developments within the directorate to identify roles for Dryden in emerging projects. Stewart is Dryden's mission director for Exploration in addition to his role as Dryden point of contact. Romans is his deputy.

"A large group of folks at Dryden were not only aware of what was going on, but they were eager and interested in finding out more about it. The timing for the visit (by Steidle) was very, very good. It helped set the stage for the role Dryden could play in this new vision and new approach the Agency is following," Romans said.

Steidle did an excellent job communicating where the mission directorate is going and came across as "charismatic and motivational," Romans said.

Stewart reinforced the point that Dryden is only beginning to identify potential roles in the work of Exploration Systems.

"Currently, we have a role and we're contributing - with leadership on the CEV heat shield - and we have people at Headquarters helping out," he said. "Additionally, we have an expectation that we'll have a larger role in the future."

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Jay Levine
X-Press Editor