The Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, CA, is NASA’s primary center for atmospheric flight research and operations. Dryden plays a vital role in advancing technology and science through flight, conducting flight research and technology integration, as well as validating space exploration concepts and airborne remote sensing and science observations.
Two NASA programs are managed at Dryden. The first is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The SOFIA is a NASA 747SP that houses the world’s largest airborne infrared telescope — 100" in diameter — in partnership with the German Aerospace Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA, where the program’s science component is managed.
A demonstration of one of the SOFIA’s major design capabilities occurred on June 23 when scientists onboard observed the dwarf planet Pluto as it passed in front of a distant star. This event, known as an “occultation,” allowed scientific analysis of Pluto and its atmosphere because pilots were able to fly the SOFIA to an exact location at the precise moment when Pluto’s shadow fell on Earth.
Dryden also manages the Space Technology Flight Opportunities program, which incorporates two previously established projects: Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research, and Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology. NASA’s In novative Partnerships office at NASA Headquarters initiated both projects. NASA Flight Opportunities officials seek and foster capabilities from the commercial sector, initially in pursuit of suborbital flight services, in support of NASA’s mission to encourage and facilitate growth of the U.S. commercial space industry.
Dryden’s Airborne Science program includes missions such as satellite calibration and validation, new sensor and algorithm development, and process studies. Dryden aircraft are used to carry out the missions and provide observations of Earth, as well as data collection for the scientific community, using a DC-8 airborne laboratory, a Gulfstream III, two unmanned Global Hawks, and two ER-2s, civil variants of the U-2S reconnaissance aircraft.
The DC-8, for example, flew July 28 as part of the Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Night, Days and Seasons II, or ASCENDS II, campaign. The mission over central California, which was funded by the Earth Science division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, included further development of laser-based Earth-observing satellite instrument techniques designed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide and two laser instruments that remotely measured oxygen. The DC-8 also carried two “truth” instruments — devices known to produce accurate data — that took air samples to be compared with the laser measurements.
In addition, the Global Hawks provide a high-altitude, long-endurance platform to conduct research at altitudes up to 65,000 feet and remain aloft about 30 hours. Missions with the unmanned aircraft have included the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes, in the summer of 2010. In tandem with Dryden’s DC-8, the aircraft explored how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes.
Dryden also has aircraft such as the F-15B, F/A-18, Gulfstream III, King Air B-200, T-34, and T-38 that are platforms for integrating systems and experiments that validate and verify new aeronautic concepts. Current research includes sonic boom studies, validation of new sensor-based technologies such as fiber-optic sensing systems, and aerodynamic, system, and propulsion research.
Also in support of aeronautical research and development, the center is involved in aspects of fundamental aeronautics and aviation safety programs, including those with the X-48 blended wing body, subsonic support with an Ikhana (Predator B) unmanned aircraft system, and aviation safety program support with adaptive flight controls.