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Reducing Blunt-Based Vehicle Drag by Increasing Forebody Roughness
March 11, 2011

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Innovators at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center have patented a method for reducing the drag of blunt-body vehicles. Many of the designs for future generations of reusable launch and space-access vehicles incorporate a blunt-body and have large base areas compared with those of previous hypersonic vehicles. Excessive base drag associated with these designs could reduce payload capability and limit vehicle landing sites. Any decrease in base drag has the potential to significantly improve overall vehicle performance. The Armstrong method calls for coarsening a portion of the forebody surface, which increases frictional drag along the forebody; however, it also results in reduced base drag and reduced total vehicle drag. The Armstrong team found that adding precise levels of roughness to approximately one-third of the forebody reduces drag along the base. Coarsening may be accomplished by treating the surface with an abrasive or attaching a well-designed agent to the surface.


  • Effective: Provides a relatively large decrease in base drag, with just a small increment in forebody friction drag
  • Adaptable: Applies to all types of blunt-based vehicles at a wide range of speeds, with drag reductions persisting well into the supersonic flight regime
  • Safer: Maintains the inherent structural integrity of the vehicle


This technology has applications for any blunt-body vehicle including:

  • Commercial spacecraft
  • Single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicles
  • Reusable launch vehicles


Armstrong has one patent issued (U.S. Patent No: 6,892,989→ ) for this technology.

Commercial Opportunity

This technology is part of NASA's technology transfer program. The program seeks to stimulate development of commercial uses of NASA-developed technologies. NASA is flexible in its agreements, and opportunities exist for licensing and joint development. Armstrong is interested in a partnership to commercialize this technology.

Contact Information

If you would like more information about this technology or about NASA's technology transfer program, please contact:

Technology Transfer Office
NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center
PO Box 273, M/S 1100
Edwards, CA 93523-0273
Phone: (661) 276-3368
E-mail: DFRC-TTO@mail.nasa.gov

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