NASA Ames Research Center is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, surrounded by high-tech companies, universities, and laboratories. With over $3 billion in capital equipment, 2,500 research personnel, and a $900 million annual budget, Ames plays a critical role in virtually all NASA missions in support of America’s space and aeronautics programs.

Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA.
NASA Ames is also a vital component of Silicon Valley’s world-renowned innovation ecosystem, actively participating in the region’s technological and scientific evolution. Together with its on-site partners, Ames generates over $7 billion in annual economic output, supporting over 42,000 jobs nationally, with 65% of those jobs remaining in California.

One of NASA’s ten field centers, Ames was founded in 1939 to support aeronautics research. Since then, the Center has been transformed from a focus on wind tunnel testing, to innovative research and technology development in aeronautics, spaceflight, and information technology that both fuel the economy and make NASA missions possible. Indeed, Ames’ economic, technological, and innovation impact are unparalleled regionally, nationally, and within NASA.

Ames is NASA’s lead center for research and development in air traffic management; advanced supercomputing; astrobiology; human factors; entry, descent, and landing systems; small spacecraft; and intelligent systems. The research and development organizations at Ames support NASA’s exploration efforts, as well as the continued operation of the International Space Station, and the space science and aeronautics work across NASA.

The National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex wind tunnel facility is the largest in the world at 80 x 120 feet. It was built in the 1940s, and uses 100 megawatts of power to generate 100-knot winds.
The Intelligent Systems Division develops advanced intelligent software and systems for all NASA Mission Directorates. The Division provides software expertise for aeronautics, space science missions, the International Space Station, and the retired space shuttle. Ames is home to the Kepler mission’s Principal Investigator, and is responsible for its ground system development, missions operations, and science data analysis. Launched on March 7, 2009, with a planned mission of at least 3.5 years, Kepler’s objective is to survey a portion of the Milky Way galaxy to discover Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone, and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets.

Ames is also home to numerous wind tunnels that enable the entire range of scientific and engineering research. The Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, where several generations of commercial and military aircraft as well as NASA space vehicles have been tested, includes an 11 x 11-foot Transonic Wind Tunnel (TWT). The TWT has been instrumental in the development of virtually every domestically produced commercial transport and military fixed-wing airframe since the 1960s.

Ames also conducts thermal protection materials testing in its Arc Jet Complex, which has a rich heritage of over 40 years in thermal protection system development for every NASA space transportation and planetary exploration program, including Apollo, the space shuttle, Viking, Pioneer-Venus, Galileo, Mars Pathfinder, and, most recently, the Mars Exploration Rovers.

Another unique complex at Ames is the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS), which scientists and engineers use to explore and solve issues in both spacecraft design and missions operations. The VMS offers an unequaled six-degree- of-freedom range of motion, traversing as much as 60 feet vertically and 40 feet horizontally. This is key to highfidelity simulation, and along with other sensory cues, makes the VMS unsurpassed at simulating aerospace vehicles for the entire flight envelope — especially during the critical phases of approach and landing.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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