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Langley Research Center: Continuing a Legacy of Aerospace Success
April 23, 2010

Along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay is the United States' first civilian aeronautics research laboratory. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics established the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, in 1917. At the dawn of the Space Age in 1958, the lab became NASA Langley Research Center. Langley's work lays the foundation for the nation's future in aerospace and science by helping to advance NASA's goals. With an annual budget of $759 million in 2009, Langley Research Center had a $2 billion economic impact on the nation according to an analysis by Wessex Group, Ltd, retained by NASA Langley to assess economic impact.

Langley's Legacy Builders

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Any organization's ultimate success depends on its most valued resource: its people. About 1,900 civil servants and 1,800 contractors work together as a highly motivated team at the Center. About 60 percent of Langley's workforce are classified as scientists and engineers, 16 percent are technicians, 21 percent are administrative mission support personnel and 3 percent are clerical staff. Eighteen percent of Langley's very talented and dedicated staff have doctoral degrees, 30 percent have a masters, 27 percent have a bachelors and 14 percent have an associates degree. In addition to earning advanced degrees Langley employees are active participants in professional organizations, which helps with sharing information with peers and learning about research trends. About 35 employees have received national awards from these professional organizations recognizing their contributions to their respective research fields.

Langley's Areas of Expertise

Striking out from the familiar to the unknown has long been a human endeavor. NASA embodies this very human characteristic by seeking to understand more about our world and the universe around us. Langley provides an integrated approach to increasing this understanding with robust aerospace systems that can perform in our own atmosphere, on the Moon, on Mars or anywhere that NASA explores with aircraft, spacecraft and satellites.

The past year has been an exciting one for Langley. We tested three new technologies through exciting one-of-a-kind flight demonstrations. Langley was selected as the lead for a new NASA science mission, Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory or CLARREO. As part of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), Langley was honored to receive its seventh Collier Trophy, the American aviation community's highest honor.

Major Contributions to Orion

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Langley is managing development of the Orion crew module launch abort system, which will fly the crew to safety in the event of a launch pad emergency, and leading the development and testing of Orion landing systems options, which takes advantage of our expertise in structures, materials, and impact dynamic analyses, as well as our unique drop test facility. Langley is upgrading this facility to perform water-landing tests to help qualify the Orion capsule for water landings.

Langley has also made significant contributions to the Orion heat shield design, analysis, and testing. Langley is manufacturing a series of Orion flight test articles, the first of which includes a command module mass simulator scheduled to fly on the first test of the launch abort system, which will simulate an emergency on the launch pad and is scheduled for early 2010.

Living and Working on the Moon

When astronauts reach the moon, they will need safe places to live. Langley is leading development of technologies to make this possible. These technologies include lightweight structures such as composites, advanced sensors and controls for safe moon landings, inflatable materials for building habitats, tools for predicting harmful radiation, and finally systems for protecting the astronauts from this and other hazards.

Success for NASA Test Flights

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In October, the Ares I-X rocket sailed into the sky during a successful launch at Kennedy Space Center. Ares I-X, the first flight test of the over 300-foot tall Ares I design, produced 2.6 million pounds of thrust to accelerate the rocket to nearly 3 g's and Mach 4.76, just shy of hypersonic speed. The flight reached a suborbital altitude of 160,000 feet after separation of its first stage, a four-segment solid rocket booster. The flight of the Ares I-X proved hardware, models, facilities and ground operations associated with the new Ares I vehicle. Langley led the systems engineering and integration or how all the pieces fit and work together. We were also responsible for the fabrication of the Crew Module and Launch Abort System mass simulator or weight model.

In July, the Max Launch Abort System or MLAS was successfully tested in a simulated pad-abort test at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The unpiloted test was part of an assessment by the Langley-based NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) that, in a mere 20 months, oversaw the design and construction of the 33-foot tall 18-foot wide MLAS launch vehicle. Although the MLAS concept will not replace the Orion abort system, the test allowed evaluation of an alternate launch abort system.

Advancing the Science of Flight

The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE), a new concept for a heat shield, was successfully tested in a launch at Wallops Flight Facility in August. Langley delivered the IRVE-II, which was launched to an altitude of 131 miles. This technology holds great promise for future space missions because the lightweight but robust heat shields will protect crew and payload during planetary landings and represents a weight savings over current heat shield technology.

Environmentally Responsible Aviation

NASA is enabling future advanced environmentally responsible aircraft and operations. The X-48C blended wing-body was put through its paces to determine the aerodynamic effects of design modifications made to reduce community noise. In blended-wing body designs, the wings merge seamlessly into the fuselage for lower drag and reduced fuel consumption and emissions. In this effort, NASA is partnering with Boeing Research & Technology and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab to explore and validate structural, aerodynamic and operational advantages.

Langley Shares in Seventh Collier Trophy

The aircraft fatal accident rate has fallen 80 percent in the 10-year period since the Commercial Aviation Safety Team or CAST was established in 1997. At the time that CAST, a unique industry and government partnership that included NASA Langley, was formed, the goal seemed daunting. The team analyzed data from 500 accidents and thousands of safety incidents around the world. The information was used to develop the most critical safety technologies, systems and procedures to reduce accident risk and ultimately save lives. In recognition of CAST's outstanding accomplishments, the National Aeronautics Association awarded them the 2008 Collier Trophy. The trophy is presented annually for the most innovative aviation achievement implemented in the past year in the United States. Langley was also part of a team that was awarded the 2007 Collier Trophy. Langley has been recognized by seven Collier Trophies since its first one in 1929.

Unlocking the Secrets of Earth's Atmosphere

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Center researchers tracked and studied pollution, smoke, and fires from both aircraft and spacecraft to better understand the large-scale impact of small particles known as aerosols, the least understood variable in long-term climate-change scenarios. The scientists flew the High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HRSL) instrument on an aircraft over wild fires in Myrtle Beach, SC, and the southern Great Plains. The data compliments data from Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO), which collected its first operational vertical profiles of clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere. This research is enriching our understanding of our climate system and providing new insights into air quality.

Better Climate Factors Measurements

Langley was named the mission lead for the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) mission. CLARREO is one of four tier one missions of the National Research Academies' Decadal Survey. CLARREO will provide more accurate measurement of climate factors and effects. The mission, currently in the design phase, will deliver enhanced climate information to decision and policy makers; not simply how much ice is melting and temperatures are rising, but also what factors are causing those changes. Results from CLARREO observations will be incorporated to improve computerized climate models and improve their ability to accurately predict the nature and effects of climate change.

Critical Insights for Decision-Makers

 

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To fly through the air or to travel into space requires vehicle and system architectures that are reliable and robust. At Langley, system analysis occurs in the disciplines of aeronautics, space exploration, science missions, and space operations. The Center's experts provide critical insights for informed decision making. Aeronautics projects supported include new wing-fuselage designs, ultra-high bypass ratio engines to reduce emissions and noise while boosting fuel economy, identification of aircraft icing hazards, and changes to airport traffic management. Space support included assessments of Ares V rocket shroud design, aerodynamic database development for Ares I rocket, trajectory analysis for the Ares I-X flight test vehicle, lunar surface buildup scenarios and polar outpost architectures, and analysis of a lunar electric rover concept and portable utility pallet. Science program support included systems analysis of a number of climate change and environmental health missions. Langley continues to provide systems analysis support to the International Committee on Earth Observing Satellites by evaluating the Earth-observing fleet of satellites now in orbit.

Research Appears in Top Lists

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Each year R&D Magazine selects and honors the top 100 innovations for the past year. In 2009, Langley's Sang Choi was recognized for his work on a next-generation silicon chip. Choi was on a team that created the world's first silicon germanium semiconductor alloy, laying the groundwork for development of ultra-fast chipsets. The Rhombohedral Lattice-Matched SiGe, a semiconductor material for ultra-fast microelectronic applications received the award.

The Ares rocket was recognized by TIME magazine as one of the top 50 best inventions of 2009. According to the magazine "the Ares I rocket is the best and smartest and coolest thing built in 2009- a machine that can launch human beings to cosmic destinations." The Launch Abort System for the Orion crew capsule was named number 6 out of 10 in the space and aviation category of the year's top innovations by Popular Science magazine. The technologies where judged on how the innovation has pushed past what was thought possible 12 months ago.

Patents and Technology Transfer

In pushing the boundaries of knowledge, Langley researchers frequently develop new techniques, materials and devices with applications that are beneficial outside of their uses in aerospace and science. These unique achievements are registered with the U.S. Patent Office. Langley researchers received 19 patents in 2009 covering such areas as aircraft wing design, sensors, and spacecraft materials. Researchers developed ideas that led to 124 invention disclosures, 45 patent applications and $552,822 in royalties.

Langley's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (SBIR, STTR) Office actively works with Center researchers to find solutions to engineering challenges. Recent partnerships involve development of a computerized head-worn display for civilian airline pilots, a device that makes it easier to exchange different tools on a proposed lunar surface manipulation system, and a compact rugged telescope as part of a group of new air quality instruments for uncrewed aerial vehicles.

Connecting with Educators

In 2009, Langley connected directly with more than 300,000 students and educators from kindergarten though post-doctorate levels via teacher workshops, digital learning, internships, and a host of other educational activities.

Building for the Future

NASA Langley recently broke ground for the first in a series of new buildings that will replace aging infrastructure. The Center partnered with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to streamline procurement and reduce design costs. The new building is designed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver rating of the United States Green Building Council certification system. This efficient building will replace older facilities and significantly reduce Center operating and maintenance costs.

For the latest information about NASA Langley Research Center, visit www.nasa.gov/langley.

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Orion crew module strut concept test
The Orion crew module's energy-absorbing strut concept was successfully tested at Langley's Landing and Impact Research Facility.
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NASA
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Lunar Electric Rover testing
The Lunar Electric Rover (LER) is shown during a test in the Arizona desert.
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NASA
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The Ares I-X at Kennedy Space Center.
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NASA
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The X-48C 8.5 percent scale flight test model undergoes evaluation in a Langley wind tunnel.
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NASA
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MLAS launch
The launch of the MLAS at Wallops Flight Facility in July.
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NASA/Sean Smith
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Advanced aircraft configuration.
Advanced aircraft configuration.
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NASA
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Page Last Updated: February 12th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator