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NASA's Latest Mission on Earth
April 19, 2012

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In Sustainability Base, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is used to simulate environmental flows in- and outside the building. Above figure shows a CFD simulation of NASA Ames, where surfaces are colored by Mach number. The new building is in the foreground
Image credit: NASA Ames NAS

The new facility has embedded repurposed NASA technologies, including NASA's advanced computational fluid dynamic (CFD) tools. Above image shows CFD flows of NASA Ames, where surfaces are colored by pressure. The new building is in the background.
Image credit: NASA Ames NAS
NASA is leading the way to a better quality of life on Earth. Meeting the White House challenge to lead by example, it has taken a second look at its aerospace technologies and has repurposed them in imaginative and innovative ways to create a "smart" building unlike any other government building ever constructed. Designed in harmony with its environment, it is a highly intelligent, intuitive, new building, called Sustainability Base, and located at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Sustainability Base is designed to be "native to place," which means it incorporates surrounding elements into its new design. This 50,000 square-foot, two-story building is oriented to take advantage of the sun's arc and the prevailing winds from San Francisco Bay. It is capable of anticipating and reacting to changes in sunlight, temperature, wind, and occupancy, as it performs automatically, in real-time, to these internal and external changes. It is simultaneously a workplace, a showcase for NASA technology and a living prototype for future buildings. It is NASA's latest mission on Earth.

Recently, the U.S. Green Building Council announced it has awarded Sustainability Base its highest level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, LEED Platinum. To receive this premier rating, the building must receive more than 80 out of 100 points across five major categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, plus additional points for innovation in design and regional priority.

"What makes our building different than the other NASA LEED buildings is that preliminary data are already showing a net-energy positive profile. The building site contributes more energy to the grid than it receives from the grid. Ames also repurposed NASA aerospace technologies to optimize the building's performance," said Steven Zornetzer, associate center director for research at Ames.

Already reaching reduced-energy consumption estimates, this ultragreen federal building generates much of its own renewable power. It uses photovoltaics (solar panels) and solid oxide fuel cell technology from a Bloom Energy Box, an example of repurposed NASA space technology for on-site energy generation. The facility also is expected to consume 90 percent less potable (drinkable) water than conventionally constructed buildings of equivalent size. This is partially due to a repurposed water recovery system, derived from one that was originally designed for the International Space Station. Recycled water will be cleaned on site and then used again to flush toilets and urinals. Additionally, the building's landscaping includes California native plants and non-invasive, draught-tolerant species. The site's irrigation water will be recycled groundwater obtained from another site on the Ames campus.

What really makes this facility a "smart" building is the innovative application of NASA technologies. One such application is the building's embedded advanced intelligent control technology, which was derived from software originally developed for NASA's Aviation Safety Program. This technology "considers" multiple performance goals and constraints simultaneously to determine an optimal strategy for meeting performance goals. For example in aviation, fuel efficiency is a consideration. Data input may be estimates of factors that affect efficiency, such as aircraft lift and drag, engine performance, aircraft location, and orientation. The software helps plan the best flight path for fuel conservation.

Similar intelligent control technology is being developed for the building. To determine a high-performance strategy, zones are established throughout the building. Each zone has sensors strategically located that relay real-time data to a central controller about the building's environment. Data factors include access to weather forecasts, predicted heat load from sun, estimates of body and laptop temperatures and occupants' calendars to predict density numbers at meetings. With this information, the central controller can predict internal temperatures, and adjust the heating and cooling systems for maximum comfort.

Another technology given new application is NASA's advanced computational fluid dynamic (CFD) tools that are used to simulate, quantify and understand the ways fluid flows in a given environment. For example, CFD examines how air flows through a jet engine or around an aircraft, or how blood circulates through the body in different environmental circumstances. This technology has been used by NASA for a variety of applications, from development of next-generation space exploration vehicles to engineering biomedical devices.

In Sustainability Base, computational fluid dynamics is used to simulate environmental flows inside and outside the building. Simulated external flows include seasonal wind patterns in varying weather conditions. Internal simulations include air circulation patterns throughout the building, which are used to assess flow-control devices, such as automated windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units. Both sets of simulation data allow the building's control system to develop strategies for maintaining maximum comfort while minimizing energy demands.

Other repurposed technologies include an Inductive Monitoring System (IMS) and Hybrid Diagnostic Engine (HyDE), both originally developed at Ames. IMS is used to monitor systems on the International Space Station. For example, IMS is used to monitor the control-moment gyros, which are used to control the attitude of the station. Sustainability Base will use IMS to learn about and monitor its performance. HyDE is a model-based reasoning engine designed to detect and isolate faults in complex systems. In the new building, HyDE will be used to monitor the geothermal systems.

NASA's new, environmentally-friendly building was named in honor of the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon more than 40 years ago. The landing site for the Apollo 11 spacecraft was named Tranquility Base.

Sustainability Base already has won prestigious national awards. They include the 2010 U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Award for Green Innovation; 2010 San Jose Silicon Valley Structures Award for Best Green Public Building; the 2011 White House Greengov "Lean Clean and Green Award"; and CEIL, the "Leadership in Innovation Award."

"We are thrilled to be applying NASA aerospace technologies to our everyday living and working environments. This building brings NASA technologies down to Earth to leverage taxpayer investment and improve the quality of life for everyone," said Zornetzer.

Additional Resources:

Video highlights of the facility's construction, technology and system are scheduled to air on NASA Television's Video File at 6 a.m. PDT, Friday, April 20. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit NASA TV.

Digital press kit of Sustainability Base

More on Sustainability Base

More on Ames' green technologies

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator