Originally established as the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (AERL) — part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) — in 1941, NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, OH became a national resource for innovations in aircraft engine technology that influenced commercial and military propulsion systems. Lewis Research Center became part of the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. In 1999, NASA Lewis was renamed the John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field.
Areas of Expertise
Aircraft Propulsion. Glenn's work advances propulsion for aircraft while reducing energy consumption, noise, emissions, and the cost of air travel. Work involves investigating the use of alternative energy sources and improving the safety and expediency of flight. Core expertise includes engine cycles, advanced propulsion systems, component improvements, controls and dynamics, harsh environment sensors, electronics, instrumentation, health monitoring and management, materials and structures, power extraction and management, icing, fuels and propellants, acoustics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, aerothermodynamics, and plasmas.
Communications Technology and Development. Communication solutions to improve air traffic management, communications, and navigation among satellites, aircraft, spacecraft, astronauts, robots, and ground operations are developed. This includes advanced antennas, integrated radio frequency and optical terminals, software-defined radios, high-power amplifiers, and networking for high-data-rate communications.
Space Propulsion and Cryogenic Fluids Management. Through innovations in propellant management and chemical, electric, and nuclear propulsion technology, Glenn develops capabilities that are a critical part of NASA's mission to take astronauts to a variety of deep-space destinations. Core expertise includes propellants, chemical propulsion, electric propulsion (ion, Hall, plasma), nuclear propulsion, cryogenic fluids (oxygen, methane, and hydrogen) handling, characterization, storage, delivery, demonstration, and flight packages.
NASA's Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project is developing critical technologies to extend the length and capabilities of new science and exploration missions. Once they are placed into orbit and separated from their launch vehicle, spacecraft must rely on their onboard propulsion systems for any further maneuvering. For certain deep-space missions, the onboard propulsion systems and their required propellant may make up more than half of the overall spacecraft mass. By utilizing SEP, the mass of the propulsion system and propellant can be reduced by up to 90 percent by augmenting the propellant with energy from the Sun. As a result, SEP is a cost-efficient method to transport cargo to the deepest reaches of space.
Utilizing electric power from solar arrays to ionize and accelerate xenon gas, highly efficient thrust is produced using one-tenth of the propellant required by conventional chemical propulsion systems. SEP enables spacecraft weight reduction, increases flexibility of mission design, and provides higher delta-V systems.
Hybrid Electric Propulsion. NASA is investing in hybrid electric propulsion research as part of its overall efforts to improve the fuel efficiency, emissions, and noise levels in commercial transport aircraft. The term “hybrid electric” encompasses many different methods for using both airplane fuel and electricity to drive the propulsion system. Research in this area includes airplane concepts, electrical power systems, component materials, and test facilities along with exploratory investment in turbine-generator interactions and boundary-layer ingestion validation. The overall goal is to reduce fuel burn, energy consumption, emissions, and noise for single-aisle passenger aircraft.
Power, Energy Storage, and Conversion. NASA Glenn is ushering in the next generation of technologies for power generation, energy conversion, and storage by studying and developing solar power generation, batteries, fuel cells, regenerative fuel cells, flywheels, thermal energy conversion and heat rejection, radioisotopes, fission, power electronics, and power management and distribution.
Materials and Structures for Extreme Environments. Materials and structures improve aircraft engines, space propulsion systems, and planetary surface operations while contributing to technologies for practical Earth applications.
Physical Sciences and Biomedical Technologies in Space. NASA Glenn studies the effects of long-duration missions on astronaut health to support sustainable exploration of space. Advancements in fire safety, life support systems, and crew health monitoring extend mission duration and enhance the safety of space travel.
Glenn's research facilities have contributed to decades of technology advances. Aerospace testing facilities accurately simulate aircraft flight conditions on Earth and the harshest conditions found in the far reaches of the solar system. Facility capabilities include engine components testing, full-scale engine testing, flight research, icing research, materials and structures, microgravity, space power and propulsion, and wind tunnels.
Plum Brook Station, located 50 miles west of Cleveland, is home to four test facilities that perform ground tests for the international space community. Glenn has repurposed its Hypersonic Tunnel Facility to create the NASA Electric Aircraft Testbed (NEAT) at Plum Brook Station. NEAT is a reconfigurable facility that can accommodate power systems for large passenger airplanes like a Boeing 737, with megawatts of power. This testbed takes advantage of the facility's massive amounts of available power to carry out research and technology development of aircraft electrical powertrains.
NEAT also includes a vacuum chamber that can simulate altitudes of up to 40,000 feet to test high-voltage power electronics, electric motors, and controls. As large airline companies compete to reduce emissions, fuel, and noise, aircraft manufacturers are shifting more of their aircraft systems to electrical power. To help usher in the next revolution in aviation — hybrid electric and turboelectric aircraft — NASA is building and testing portions of a concept aircraft's power systems with an eye toward the future.
The Space Environments Complex (SEC) houses the world's largest and most powerful space environment simulation facilities including the Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber measuring 100 feet in diameter by 122 feet high.
The Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility is the world's most powerful spacecraft acoustic test chamber. It can simulate the noise of a spacecraft launch up to 163 decibels or as loud as the thrust of 20 jet engines.
The Mechanical Vibration Facility is the world's highest-capacity and most powerful spacecraft shaker system, subjecting test articles to the rigorous conditions of launch.
The In-Space Propulsion Facility (ISP) is the world's only facility capable of testing full-scale, upper-stage launch vehicles and rocket engines under simulated high-altitude conditions. The engine or vehicle can be exposed for indefinite periods to low ambient pressures, low-background temperatures, and dynamic solar heating to simulate the environment of orbital or interplanetary travel.