Posted by NASA Dryden January 24, 2013

Imagine hypersonic breakthroughs that enable future missions to Mars, exponentially better sensors for aircraft and spacecraft that reduce weight and increase safety, and control systems that automatically react to flight conditions before emergency situations arise.

Researchers at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., can see that future. NASA technology chiefs, including chief technologist Mason Peck,deputy chief technologist Jim Adams and the center technologists council, recently toured the center and its associated aircraft operations facility in nearby Palmdale for briefings on Dryden researchers’ ideas that could have major impacts on future aircraft and spacecraft systems.

Both Peck and the council were introduced to a range of Dryden technologies including fiber-optic sensor work, Space Launch System controls and adaptive controls technology. They also learned about the Multi-Disciplinary Hypersonic Trajectory Analysis and Optimization Research, an altitude compensating engine nozzle and flight research projects focused on enabling next-generation aircraft and spacecraft systems.

Peck also spoke about Dryden’s technology having impacts beyond NASA that could “achieve a spark for other kinds of goods and services” by transferring the technology to industry for commercialization.

Work such as the automatic ground collision avoidance system has applications that could have broad appeal, Peck said. Concepts for a self-driving car are one example where the technology could be transferred to industry for use.

“Dryden will fly and test the technologies that will make the future possible,” he added.

To make that future possible, Peck encouraged Dryden staff to continue seeking partnerships with industry, academia and other federal agencies.

After his technology tour at NASA Dryden and an all-hands session with Dryden employees, Peck and Adams visited some of NASA’s partners at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., including Firestar Technologies, Masten Flight Systems and XCOR Aerospace.

Masten demonstrated their progress on developing a reusable vertical-launch-and-landing sub-orbital space access vehicle by conducting a 60-second tethered test launch of its Xombie prototype vehicle, followed by a tour of the follow-on Xaero-B vehicle now under development.

At XCOR, Peck and his entourage viewed a brief test firing of a tiny rocket nozzle, and were briefed by XCOR president Jeff Greason about the development of the Lynx sub-orbital space-access rocket plane for both space tourism and science missions.

At Firestar, chief executive officer Greg Mungas detailed a variety of high-tech hardware the firm has been developing with NASA assistance, including a Volkswagen engine being converted to run on rocket fuel; small-scale rocket nozzles and inexpensive rocket engines that burn environmentally friendly mono-propellants.

Masten and XCOR are partners in NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which has contracted with them to fly promising technologies on sub-orbital space-access vehicles, while Firestar has developed several technical innovations to benefit NASA via the agency’s Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

“When we invest in technology it has a big impact on the nation,” Peck added.

Jay Levine, editor, The X-Press
Alan Brown, public affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center