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.
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 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.
Also exclusive to Ames are Future Flight Central, a research facility used to simulate a wide variety of airport, tower configurations, and operational environments; and Pleiades, NASA’s largest supercomputer and seventh on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful, high-performance computers.
The Science Directorate at Ames conducts research, develops products, and serves the space community in astrobiology and related areas of earth, space, and life science. The Earth Science Division is responsible for research in the atmospheric and ecosystem sciences, emphasizing process and modeling studies that utilize advanced airborne and satellite-based measurement technologies. An example of a major project currently underway is the Coastal and Ocean Airborne Science Testbed (COAST) project, a major NASA initiative to advance coastal ecosystems research by providing a unique airborne payload optimized for remote sensing in the optically complex coastal zone. The Division is also leading one of the inaugural Earth Venture missions, the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX). ATTREX uses a Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to study changes in water vapor in the seldomobserved area of the atmosphere between 15 and 20 kilometers that impacts both the Earth’s protective ozone layer and its energy balance.
The Space Science Division at Ames conducts research and mission-related activities that are structured around the study of the origins and evolution of stars, the interstellar medium, planetary systems, the search for and characterization of exoplanets, and life on Earth and (perhaps) elsewhere. Major elements of the Space Science and Astrobiology Division’s program include the study of the interstellar gas and dust that form the raw material for stars, planets, and life; the processes of star and planet formation; the evolution of planets and their atmospheres, particularly with regard to evidence for life; the origin of life and its early evolution on Earth; the search for past or present life throughout the solar system and beyond; and advanced technologies for the robotic and human exploration of space.
The Space Biosciences Division performs the research and technology development necessary to enable NASA's long-term human exploration missions. The Division studies the effects of spaceflight on living systems, conducting the research in space onboard the International Space Station and other space platforms, as well as research on the ground. It develops and manages the specialized research facilities to support investigations in microgravity, partial gravity, and hypergravity. It engineers the life-support technologies to sustain humans for long-duration space exposure, and develops the advanced biotechnologies that enable NASA’s exploration of distant destinations.
When NASA’s final space shuttle mission, STS-135 Atlantis, launched on July 8, 2011, it carried into orbit eight different experiments that the Division helped to develop. The experiments demonstrated new technologies to improve astronaut health and health monitoring, investigated what happened to living systems as they adapted to the unique environment of spaceflight, enabled students and teachers to do science in space, and provided insights and technologies that also benefit life on Earth.
Ames is also the home of NASA Research Park (NRP), a shared-use and education campus for collaborations among government, industry, academia, and non-profit organizations. Nearly 100 industry and academic partners currently reside on the NRP campus, and are making tangible contributions to the Agency. These partnerships enable NASA to reach out to new communities for talent, ideas, and programmatic support. Ames has already made significant progress in engaging a wide range of diverse partners including Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Boeing, the Pipeline Research Council International, various universities, DARPA, the Federal Aviation Administration, NOAA, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Department of Energy.
The relationships between NASA and current NRP partners are based on the core technology areas being pursued by Ames. For instance, m2mi Corporation, one of the NRP partners working in the area of small spacecraft systems, combined their unique capabilities in software technology, sensors, and global systems awareness with Ames’ expertise in nanosensors, wireless networks, and nanosatellite technologies to develop a fifth-generation nanosat. They plan to place a large number of these nanosats in low Earth orbit to provide the firstever fifth-generation telecommunications system to enable Internet Protocol (IP)-based services to the global user community.