NASA Spinoff

Modeling Languages Refine Vehicle Design

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

When we watch a space shuttle launch on television, we have only the vaguest sense of the extraordinary amount of work required to make such a complex operation successful. Even with the most highly trained engineers in the world, designing a space vehicle requires many thousands of hours of labor—and that is just in the early concept phases. With new partnerships and developments in software, however, a design task that formerly took 1,000 hours may take fewer than 100 hours.

The Vehicle Analysis Branch (VAB) at Langley Research Center is responsible for a variety of important tasks in support of the Agency’s space and planetary exploration missions, including performing preliminary design and analysis of space transportation system concepts. Recent industry collaboration with this advanced analysis branch resulted in a novel software platform that is assisting both NASA’s missions and the aerospace industry in general.

Partnership

altCincinnati, Ohio’s TechnoSoft Inc. is a leading provider of object-oriented modeling and simulation technology used for commercial and defense applications. The company designed its Adaptive Modeling Language (AML) software for the U.S. Air Force to assist the military with saving time and costs during new vehicle development. This software has since evolved through NASA involvement and is applicable to a wide variety of industries.

AML is an object-oriented, knowledge-based engineering modeling framework upon which other applications can be built. It enables multidisciplinary modeling and integration of the entire product and process development cycle.

TechnoSoft’s president, Adel Chemaly, believes the AML product is unique for two reasons: “One aspect is doing modeling—capturing model requirements for different disciplines, like multianalysis design environments. The other aspect is computing—collaboration, distributed computing, object computing, and web-enabled capabilities.”

Because the Air Force had such success with the AML framework, TechnoSoft knew that it would also be useful to others who had similar research initiatives, such as NASA. The Air Force helped pave the way for the firm to meet with NASA researchers at Langley: A researcher from the Air Force Research Laboratory was collaborating with Langley engineers on different projects to learn best practices in vehicle design. The researcher recommended using TechnoSoft’s AML program.

According to John Martin at Langley’s VAB, the team there had invested “quite a bit of time into developing code for collaborative applications, but it didn’t perform that well.”

“The AML software also came with extensive corporate knowledge, and that was a real plus for us,” says Shelly Ferlemann, another VAB researcher. With the vote of confidence from VAB, TechnoSoft eventually received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from Langley to develop the software further.

TechnoSoft built the Collaborative Hypersonic Air-breathing Vehicle Design Environment (CoHAVE) on its AML framework. According to Chemaly, the partnership ended up benefiting everyone: TechnoSoft tapped into NASA expertise, and eventually, the company took a leadership role, customizing CoHAVE to help NASA engineers analyze scramjet/ramjet vehicles for two-stage-to-orbit and hypersonic cruise missions.

NASA aerospace partners became interested in the capabilities of the enhanced software. Because it provided a mechanism for different disciplines like structural analysis and optimization to work together, CoHAVE improved the product and process design, saving time and money. “If analysis can be performed at an earlier stage,” Chemaly says, “it will help prevent a lot of problems. In the past, you had to choose one or two concepts to pursue and hope the gamble paid off.” Now, designers who utilize TechnoSoft’s AML framework can perform analysis at earlier stages, with higher or lower fidelity as needed. “NASA provided us the methodologies for automation at the various levels, enabling people to introduce higher fidelity earlier in the design process,” says Chemaly.