NASA Spinoff

Gridlock, bottlenecks, bumper-to-bumper jams—we all get caught in congestion at one time or another, as the rigors of road traffic are an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we do our best to get ahead, taking advantage of the slightest opening in the next lane, in anticipation that it is moving quicker than the snail’s pace of our current position. Other times, we just patiently ride it out, opting to sit back and get comfortable, fully surrendering to the sea of cars and trucks ahead.

What do NASA and ballistics have in common? More than the average person may know. Everyday, millions of Americans drive in vehicles, cross over bridges, and fly in airplanes without knowing just how important NASA's role in studying ballistics is in making these actions viable and safe for them.

Referred to as the lifeline for any space launch vehicle by NASA Space Launch Initiative Program Manager Warren Wiley, an umbilical is a large device that transports power, communications, instrument readings, and fluids such as propellants, pressurization gasses, and coolants from one source to another. Numerous launch vehicles, planetary systems, and rovers require umbilical mating. This process is a driving factor for dependable and affordable space access.

Seven years ago, NASA was in the planning stages of producing an aluminum alloy with higher strength and resistance at elevated temperatures for aerospace applications. At that time, a major automobile manufacturer happened to approach NASA for solutions to lowering engine emissions and the costs associated with developing aluminum engine pistons. The Space Agency realized the answers to the manufacturer's problems could lie within the proposed alloy.

Producing a new aircraft engine currently costs approximately $1 billion, with 3 years of development time for a commercial engine and 10 years for a military engine. The high development time and cost make it extremely difficult to transition advanced technologies for cleaner, quieter, and more efficient new engines. To reduce this time and cost, NASA created a vision for the future where designers would use high-fidelity computer simulations early in the design process in order to resolve critical design issues before building the expensive engine hardware.

NASA's Langley Research Center scientists developed a family of catalysts for low- temperature oxidation of carbon monoxide and other gases. The catalysts provide oxidation of both carbon monoxide and formaldehyde at room temperature without requiring any energy input, just a suitable flow of gas through them.

Wake vortices are generated by all aircraft during flight. The larger the aircraft, the stronger the wake, so the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) separates aircraft to ensure wake turbulence has no effect on approaching aircraft. Currently, though, the time between planes is often larger than it needs to be for the wake to dissipate. This unnecessary gap translates into arrival and departure delays, but since the wakes are invisible, the delays are nearly inevitable.

NASA's Plum Brook Station, a 6,400-acre, remote test installation site for Glenn Research Center, houses unique, world-class test facilities, including the world's largest space environment simulation chamber and the world's only laboratory capable of full-scale rocket engine firings and launch vehicle system level tests at high-altitude conditions. Plum Brook Station performs complex and innovative ground tests for the U.S. Government (civilian and military), the international aerospace community, as well as the private sector.

If it were 50 years ago, NASA's contribution to rock and roll could have been more than just the all-astronaut rock band, Max Q, composed of six NASA astronauts, all of whom have flown aboard the Space Shuttle. If it were 50 years ago, a new NASA spinoff technology, Synthetic Vision, would likely have been able to prevent the fateful, small plane crash that killed rock and roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper on that stormy night in 1959. Synthetic Vision is a new cockpit display system that helps pilots fly through bad weather, and it has incredible life-saving potential.

Advanced chemical sensors are used in aeronautic and space applications to provide safety monitoring, emission monitoring, and fire detection. In order to fully do their jobs, these sensors must be able to operate in a range of environments. NASA has developed sensor technologies addressing these needs with the intent of improving safety, optimizing combustion efficiencies, and controlling emissions.

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