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NASA rolls out new strategic vision for aeronautics research

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden unveiled a new strategic vision better to align the work of the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) to address looming challenges in global air transportation. Bolden shared the strategic vision in a keynote speech at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Aviation 2013 conference in Los Angeles.

The new vision addresses three “mega-drivers” that are expected to alter aviation during the next 20 to 40 years: significant growth in planet-wide demand for air mobility, prompted by Asian market growth and global urbanization; mounting concerns related to climate and energy; and the convergence of technologies ranging from new materials to embedded sensors to ubiquitous networking.

NASA’s ARMD is responsible for developing tools and technologies to improve the efficiency, safety and adaptability of air transportation. The new strategic vision seeks to expand the relevancy of NASA’s research and is based on three themes: understanding emerging global trends; using those trends to drive research directions; and then organizing NASA's aeronautical research work in response to those drivers.

Nearly every aircraft flying and air traffic management system now in use includes NASA-supported technologies that improve efficiency and safety. This new vision will expand on that by fully integrating into aviation advances in other industries and parts of the economy to meet the future demands for global mobility in ways we can only begin to imagine today.

—Charles Bolden

Reflecting inputs contributed by the aviation community and national policymakers, NASA has identified six areas of research in the vision that will allow it to best deploy its resources and prioritize its goals:

  1. Safe, efficient growth in global operations that will enable the Next Generation Air Transportation System in the United States by 2035 and safely expand capacity of the global airspace system to accommodate growth in air traffic.

    An example of work in this area is NASA’s Precision Departure Release Capability (PDRC) software tool. PDRC improves the overall efficiency of air traffic management by reducing missed or delayed departures. It allows more aircraft to depart within a given timeframe, saving time and fuel. PDRC was successfully tested in partnership with the FAA, which plans to implement the tool in the future.

  2. Innovation in commercial supersonic aircraft that will provide data for a low level sonic boom standard that could lead to permission for supersonic flight over land.

    Research example: NASA’s Waveforms and Sonic Boom Perception and Response research effort has used flight tests, sensors and community resident surveys to collect data on the perceptions of sonic booms on the ground. Ongoing research is generating more data that could lead to a change in the ruling prohibiting supersonic flight over land, opening up an entirely new market for high-speed travel.

  3. Ultra-efficient commercial transports that will pioneer technologies for future generations of commercial transports that simultaneously reduce noise, fuel use and emissions.

    Research example: NASA has progressed two designs for aircraft that might enter service in another 15 or 20 years from early concepts to ideas on paper to sub-scale models and now to wind-tunnel tests. The tests will reveal the designs’ ability to dramatically reduce fuel use, noise and emissions.

  4. Transition to low-carbon propulsion that will enable industry to move toward and adopt use of low-carbon fuels and alternative propulsion systems.

    Research example: NASA’s Alternative-Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions flight research effort is investigating whether alternative fuels can reduce aviation’s impact on the environment.

  5. Real-time, system-wide safety assurance in which tools are developed for use in creating a prototype of an integrated safety monitoring and assurance system that can detect, predict and prevent safety problems in real time.

    Research example: NASA’s data mining experts are developing and testing new algorithms to mine terabytes of aircraft data to diagnose and predict problems. Already adopted by airlines and other practitioners in the aviation community, the algorithms improve operations and maintenance.

  6. Assured autonomy for aviation transformation that will enable the utilization of higher levels of automation and autonomy across the aviation system, particularly as it relates to unmanned aerial systems and remotely piloted vehicles.

    Research example: NASA flight-tested a technology called ADS-B on a NASA unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and confirmed it provided much more detailed position, velocity and altitude information not only to air traffic controllers, but also to airborne pilots of other ADS-B equipped aircraft and to the UAS pilots on the ground.

Armd
NASA ARMD analyzed global trends, identified the mega-drivers for aviation prompted by those trends, and responded with an updated organizational strategy for its research portfolio and a new strategic vision. Click to enlarge.

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