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Number Won 2015. 9. 28. 23:55

Sep. 23, 2015


NASA Developed Technology Aims to Save Commercial Airlines Fuel, Time

The TASAR application can be seen in the far right screen.

Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

Two passenger airlines soon will test NASA-developed software designed to help air carriers save time and reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

During the next three years, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines will use the Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) application, to make "traffic aware strategic aircrew requests" (TASAR).

"TAP connects directly to the aircraft avionics information hub on the aircraft," said David Wing, TASAR project lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. "It reads the current position and altitude of the aircraft, its flight route, and other real-time information that defines the plane's current situation and active flight plan. Then it automatically looks for a variety of route and/or altitude changes that could save fuel or flight time and displays those solutions directly to the flight crew."

TAP also can connect with the plane's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver and scan the ADS-B signals of nearby air traffic to avoid potential conflicts in any proposed flight path changes, making it easier for air traffic controllers to approve a pilot's route change request.

The Piaggio P. 180 Avanti aircraft used for TASAR testing.

Credits: NASA/David Wing

For airlines with Internet connectivity in the cockpit, TAP also can access information -- such as real-time weather conditions, wind forecast updates and restricted airspace status -- to further increase flight efficiency. The software is loaded onto a tablet computer, which many airline pilots already use for charts and flight calculations.

Wing and his team already have tested the TASAR software twice aboard a Piaggio P180 Avanti aircraft, a high-performance technology test bed owned and operated by Advanced Aerospace Solutions, LLC of Raleigh, North Carolina. The system worked well on its initial test flight from Virginia to Kentucky, according to its test pilot, former airline captain William Cotton.

"We used it to make a route change request from air traffic control, which they granted," said Cotton. "We got a shortcut that saved four minutes off the flight time."

Even four minutes of flight time shaved off of each leg of a trip made by an airline could result in massive fuel and time savings, according to researchers. The software provided similar results as flight tests continued in the northeast corridor. A second round of flight tests was recently completed to ensure readiness for operational use by partner airlines.

The TASAR flight tests came after a dozen pilots provided feedback on the technology in a simulation at the University of Iowa Operator Performance Laboratory in Iowa City, Iowa. In addition, aerospace systems manufacturer Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, analyzed TASAR to make sure it is safe and can be readily certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We’re excited to partner with NASA to test this new technology that has the potential to help reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions and save our guests time in the air.” said Virgin America Chief Operating Officer Steve Forte in Burlingame, California.

"Up until now there has been no way to deliver comprehensive wind and congestion data to pilots in near-real time," said Tom Kemp, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of operations in Seattle, Washington. "TASAR is a 'super app' that will give our pilots better visibility to what’s happening now versus three hours earlier when the flight plan was prepared."

Developers say the new technology won't require changes to the roles and responsibilities of pilots or air traffic controllers, which would allow the system to be implemented fast and start producing benefits right away.

"The system is meant to help pilots make better route requests that air traffic controllers can more often approve," said Wing. "This should help pilots and controllers work more effectively together and reduce workload on both sides from un-approvable requests. TASAR takes advantage of NASA's state-of-the-art TAP software, flight information directly from the aircraft and the emerging ADS-B and Internet infrastructure to help pilots get approved to fly the most efficient or time-saving trajectory possible."

NASA researchers expect this and other aviation technologies under development will help revolutionize the national airspace system, reducing delays and environmental impacts and improving passenger comfort and efficiency, even as the demand for air travel continues to grow.

For more information about NASA Aeronautics research, go to:



J.D. Harrington 
Headquarters, Washington

Kathy Barnstorff
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

Last Updated: Sep. 23, 2015

Editor: Gina Anderson

Tags:  Benefits to You,

Sep. 11, 2015

NASA Remembers September 11th

New York City as seen from the International Space Station in August 2014.

Credits: NASA

This page chronicles some of NASA's remembrances of the September 11 attacks and the Americans who died that day.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson - The only American Off the Planet

"The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. How horrible…"-Frank Culbertson

Expedition 3 Commander Frank Culbertson was aboard the International Space Station at the time of the attacks, and the only American on the crew. As soon as he learned of the attacks, he began documenting the event in photographs because the station was flying over the New York City area. He captured incredible images in the minutes and hours following the event. From his unique vantage point in space, he recorded his thoughts of the world changing beneath him.

Watch Video: Culbertson Remembers 9/11

The following day, he posted a public letter that captured his initial thoughts of the events as they unfolded. "The world changed today. What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked."

Upon further reflection, Culbertson said, "It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

Read Culbertson's Full Letter
Video: Station Astronauts Honor 9/11 Victims

Views From Space

NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of a large plume of smoke streaming southward from the remnants of the burning World Trade Center.

Credits: Liam Gumley, MODIS Atmosphere Group, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison

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Smoke can still be seen at the site at around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 12, in this image from the Landsat 7 satellite.

Credits: USGS Landsat 7 team, at the EROS Data Center

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NASA Science Programs Monitor the Air

NASA science programs were called into action after Sept. 11, 2001, as the agency worked with FEMA to fly sensors over the affected areas on aircraft looking for aerial contaminants and used satellite resources to monitor from above.

Flags for Heroes and Families

STS-108 astronauts Mark Kelly, left, and Dan Tani hold commemorative American flags the shuttle Endeavour in December 2001. The flags were later presented to victims' relatives.

Credits: NASA

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NASA flew nearly 6,000 4 by 6 inch flags on Endeavour's flight during STS-108 to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Students working at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas assembled the commemorative packages, including the U.S. flags flown in space, to be presented to relatives of the victims. Distribution began on June 14, 2002, National Flag Day, at a ceremony held at the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York.

"The 'Flags for Heroes and Families' campaign is a way for us to honor and show our support for the thousands of brave men and women who have selflessly contributed to the relief and recovery efforts," said then-NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "The American flags are a patriotic symbol of our strength and solidarity, and our Nation's resolve to prevail."

"NASA wanted to come up with an appropriate tribute to the people who lost their lives in the tragic events of September 11," added Goldin. "America's space program has a long history of carrying items into space to commemorate historic events, acts of courage and dramatic achievements. 'Flags for Heroes and Families' is a natural extension of this ongoing outreach project."

Read More About 'Flags for Heroes and Families'→

Commemoration Goes to Mars

This view of an American flag on metal recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers shortly after their destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, was taken on Mars on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the towers.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University

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In September 2001, Honeybee Robotics employees in lower Manhattan were building a pair of tools for grinding weathered rinds off rocks on Mars, so that scientific instruments on NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity could inspect the rocks' interiors.

That month's attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, less than a mile away, shook the lives of the employees and millions of others.

Work on the rock abrasion tools needed to meet a tight schedule to allow thorough testing before launch dates governed by the motions of the planets. The people building the tools could not spend much time helping at shelters or in other ways to cope with the life-changing tragedy of Sept. 11. However, they did find a special way to pay tribute to the thousands of victims who perished in the attack.

An aluminum cuff serving as a cable shield on each of the rock abrasion tools on Mars was made from aluminum recovered from the destroyed World Trade Center towers. The metal bears the image of an American flag and fills a renewed purpose as part of solar system exploration.

One day, both rovers will be silent. In the cold, dry environments where they have worked on Mars, the onboard memorials to victims of the Sept. 11 attack could remain in good condition for millions of years.

Read More About the Rovers' 9/11 Tribute

NASA Kennedy Adds Florida Touch to Sept. 11 Flag

The contributions of NASA and Kennedy Space Center were stitched into the fabric of one of the nation's most recognizable symbols, when flags from Florida's Spaceport were sewn into an American Flag recovered near ground zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The National 9/11 Flag was raised over the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex after Florida's contribution was added.

Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

"A few days after the collapse of the World Trade Center this flag was hanging on a scaffolding at 90 West Street, which was a building directly south of the World Trade Center that was heavily damaged when the south tower collapsed," said Jeff Parness, director, founder and chairman of the "New York Says Thank You Foundation."

The flag went on to become one of the most enduring symbols of the recovery from the attack. once complete, "The National 9/11 Flag" will be a permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum  at the World Trade Center site. There, America's flag can evoke a sense of pride, unity and hunger to keep achieving greatness, just as the nation's space program has for more than half a decade.

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Video: Kennedy Adds Florida Touch to 9/11 Flag

Last Updated: Sep. 11, 2015

Editor: NASA Administrator

Tags:  Benefits to You,

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July 20, 2015

NASA, Partners Test Engine Health Monitoring System

Most people are careful to maintain their cars and keep the engine clean and out of the repair shop. However, this week a joint NASA, government and industry project team seeks to purposely feed volcanic ash into an engine to create problems.

Oil smoke billows from the right inboard engine of the C-17, while a probe collects emissions data, one of numerous tests conducted during engine health monitoring tests that resume this week when ash will be fed into an engine.

Credits: NASA Photo / Tony Landis

That's one way to see if a new engine health monitoring system can detect failures before they happen. If the tests are successful, the system capable of predicting engine challenges and improving fuel economy could become available for the next generation of commercial airline engines.

A July 9 panel discussion at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, California, detailed the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research (VIPR) project. The concept is to test and evaluate a system that incorporates smart sensors and advanced diagnostic techniques. Speakers included Paul Krasa, VIPR project manager, John Lekki, VIPR principal investigator, Jack Hoying, U.S. Air Force volcanic ash environment principal investigator and Cheng Moua, Armstrong VIPR project manager.

"The ash will degrade the engine and allow us to see in real time what's happening and how well the health monitoring system works," said Lekki, who is based at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Volcanic ash was chosen for the final of a three-phase research project because atmospheric particulates have become of interest to military and civil aviation authorities that have to assess the airworthiness of engines that have encountered the ash. Eruptions in Iceland over the last five years, especially in 2010, disrupted air traffic worldwide and cost airline companies more than $1 billion due to cancelled or rerouted flights. The new sensors are expected to detect the degradation caused by the volcanic ash, quantify the significance of the event, and aid in identifying which components might require maintenance.

The Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base provides the C-17 military transport and NASA Armstrong contributes two F-117 engines for this research. The engines are a variant of an engine used in a Boeing Company commercial aircraft.

The Air Force provided a C-17 Globemaster III for use in the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research effort. Researchers are using the airplane for ground testing of new engine health monitoring technologies.

Credits: NASA Photo / Tony Landis

A rig called the spider will blow the ash into the engine for the tests. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how ash degrades an engine using the new system to observe low levels of ash blowing into the engine that can't be seen with the human eye and then feeding the power plant more moderate levels of ash with particulates that can be seen.

The engine health monitoring system's sensors also will measure emissions and combustion and can detect the effect of the ash on the engine in real time and research the prognostic capabilities that could predict how long it will take for an issue to emerge, Lekki said.

The sensors include a sensor that evolved from one that was used for the space shuttle main engines, high-temperature fiber optics, high-temperature thin film sensors and acoustic microphone arrays. Also included is a microwave tip clearance sensor developed through the Small Business Innovative Research program that measures the complex gap from the outer wall of the turbine to the tips of the blades, he explained.

"Compressor blade erosion and turbine ash deposits are what is damaging the engine," added Hoying, who is based at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. "The tests can answer questions about how close we can fly to these volcanic plumes."

After the tests are over, the investigation will continue as the research engine is taken apart and evaluated, Moua added.

A panel of experts explained the Vehicle Integrated Propulsion Research project that is testing a new engine health monitoring system that could estimate potential challenges and alert maintenance crews to check it out. Speakers included, from left, Paul Krasa, John Lekki, Jack Hoying and Cheng Moua.

Credits: NASA Photo / Ken Ulbrich

Improved sensors also could identify changes in vibration, speed, temperature and emissions that are symptomatic of engine problems before they become serious safety concerns. Notifications would be provided to ground crews of potential problems that could be fixed by preventive maintenance or alert pilots to changes in engine health thereby allowing time to prevent engine damage in flight.

To reduce risk, all such testing is conducted on the ground under controlled conditions.

The VIPR project began in 2011 with a baseline test to lay the groundwork for more complex experiments. The engine detected simulated faults, including an oil leak. A second test in early 2013 verified that sensors could detect actuator faults over a range of operating conditions.

"It will be a huge benefit economically and provide new diagnostic technologies to foster engine innovation in reliability," Lekki said.

In addition to the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA's partners on the project include Boeing Research & Technology, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric Aviation and Rolls-Royce Liberty Works, with assistance from the U.S. Geological Survey. Researchers from four NASA aeronautics centers – Armstrong, Glenn, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California – are involved in research and testing.

Jay Levine, X-Press Editor
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Monroe Conner

Tags:  Aeronautics, Armstrong Flight Research Center, Benefits to You, Langley Research Center,

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July 18, 2015


NASA Aircraft Assists in FAA-Approved Drone Medical Supply Delivery Research

Although a pilot will be on board for safety purposes, Langley’s SR-22 unmanned aircraft system will be controlled from a portable ground station during its 30 mile flight to deliver 10 pounds of medicine.

Credits: NASA/LARC

Some underserved Virginia patients were among the first to be officially helped by an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), more commonly known as a drone, during research flights to a medical clinic in Wise County Friday.

In accordance with research flight plans authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a full-sized aircraft operated by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton and a hexacopter drone operated by Flirtey Inc., a drone startup company, delivered pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies to an outdoor free clinic. The annual clinic, which is held at the Wise County Fairgrounds, is run by Remote Area Medical and the Health Wagon, a local health care outreach organization. It typically serves more than 1,500 patients.

The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg oversaw the FAA-approved test flights as part of an event called Let's Fly Wisely.

During the tests, a NASA Langley fixed-wing Cirrus SR22 aircraft, a UAS technology testbed that can be flown remotely from the ground, picked up 10 pounds of pharmaceuticals and supplies from an airport in Tazewell County in southwest Virginia. The plane, which always has a safety pilot on board, delivered the medicine to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County.

"This first unmanned aerial delivery gave us the chance to do some critical research and mission exploration with our Cirrus SR22," said Frank Jones, deputy director of NASA Langley's Research Services Directorate that oversees all Langley aircraft. "We flew the aircraft remotely beyond visual line of sight for the first time from a portable ground station. We had remotely piloted it a number of times at NASA Langley using our permanent ground station, but this allowed us to demonstrate a new capability that we can use to test unmanned mission concepts and aircraft technologies in a remote location."

The supplies went to a Flirtey crew, which separated them into 24 smaller packages so they could be delivered by small, unmanned drone to the free clinic, during a number of flights over two hours. A company pilot controlled the hexacopter, which lowered the pharmaceuticals to the ground by tether. Health care professionals received the packages, then distributed the medications to the appropriate patients.

The flight also allowed Langley to look at the safety case for use of UAS to deliver supplies to remote areas, including the transfer from aircraft to small drones.

"Today's successful delivery was a win for Virginia's test site, and a real "Kitty Hawk" moment for the unmanned systems industry,” said Virginia Senator Mark R. Warner. “These flights highlight the humanitarian possibilities of this technology and I'm looking forward to additional successes that will position Virginia as a leader in this burgeoning field."

On hand for the delivery were a number of Virginia officials, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel, Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones, and Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands. Associate Director Cathy Mangum and Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate Director Vicki Crisp also attended from Langley.

"The Commonwealth had the foresight to invest in unmanned aerial systems testing to build a new Virginia economy focused on innovation, diversification, and new technology," said McAuliffe. "We've invested more than $2 million in support of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), and today we are witnessing historic flights that are paving the way for unmanned aircraft to join traditional aircraft in the safest, most trafficked skies in the world for the benefit of all our citizens."

"Moving this technology safely into the nation’s skies has tremendous potential to help people and create new economic opportunities," said Virginia Tech President Sands. "The unmanned systems test site program at Virginia Tech supports our mission to create knowledge that will benefit the Commonwealth and meet the needs of our changing world."

SEESPAN Inc., an aerial interactive media startup company, also participated in research flights at the event to advance uses of unmanned aircraft in capturing video. Other partners included the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, Rx Partnership, and Wise County Economic Development.

The Let's Fly Wisely delivery was one of many research efforts Langley is conducting to advance the safe integration of UAS in the national airspace system (NAS). Langley researchers are also part of NASA's UAS Integration in the NAS Project, which is working to provide research findings to reduce technical barriers associated with integrating UAS into the NAS using integrated system level tests.

For more information about NASA Aeronautics, visit:



J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Michael Finneran
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

Eleanor Nelsen
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

Last Updated: Sep. 1, 2015

Editor: Gina Anderson

Tags:  Aeronautics, Benefits to You,

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Benefits to You

July 3, 2015

Airocide Air Purification Units Use NASA-Funded Technology

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NASA-funded ethylene scrubbers, originally designed to keep produce fresh in space, have been commercialized for home use in Airocide, a new product from Akida Holdings. Airocide brings industrial-strength air purification to your living room or bedroom and can stylishly be laid on a flat surface, hung on a wall, or mounted to a floor stand.

For more information about this technology or any other spinoff, please visit http://spinoff.nasa.gov/.

Image Credit:  Airocide Inc.

Last Updated: Sep. 4, 2015

Editor: William Bryan

Tags:  Benefits to You, Technology,

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Benefits to You

July 3, 2015

ÖKO Water Bottle Contains NASA-Developed Filtration Media for Water Purification

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ÖKO sells a water bottle that employs NASA filtration media to purify water as the user squeezes it through the device, giving instant potable water from many sources such as lakes and streams. The water bottle is rated effective in more than 120 countries.

For more information about this technology or any other spinoff, please visit http://spinoff.nasa.gov/.

Image Credit: ÖKO H2O Inc.

Last Updated: Aug. 26, 2015

Editor: William Bryan

Tags:  Benefits to You, Technology,

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June 24, 2015


NASA-Developed Air Traffic Management Tool Flies Into Use

NASA Future Flight Central is a national Air Traffic Control/Air Traffic Management (ATC/ATM) simulation facility. The two-story facility offers a 360-degree full-scale, real-time simulation of an airport, where controllers, pilots and airport personnel participate to optimize expansion plans, operating procedures, and evaluate new technologies.

Credits: NASA

A new software tool developed by NASA, and being deployed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is positioned to help air traffic controllers manage the nation’s skies.

The software, called Terminal Sequencing and Spacing (previously called TSS, now TSAS), will help air traffic controllers manage airspace within a doughnut-shaped region of sky that begins five miles from a major airport and extends outward about 35 miles. This new technology will allow pilots to better use flight deck automation to fly fuel-efficient, optimized profile descents, which streamlines glide paths toward the runway reducing fuel use and noise toward an airport, and safely permits more flights to merge together at a point where they can be cleared for final approach and landing.

“With TSAS, NASA’s aeronautical innovators have developed another valuable tool that will benefit our environment, our economy and every individual air traveler,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington. “Our strong partnership with the FAA is a key enabler of the rapid and successful development of this TSAS technology.”

The new traffic management technology makes it easier for pilots to use modern arrival procedures and eases air traffic controller workload through automation of some procedures and communications with flight crews. In turn, these advances will help the aviation industry and travelers by reducing emissions, air traffic congestion and fuel consumption.

Work on the software tool began in 2009, and the first prototype began system integration and testing in 2011. Since then, it has been put through more than two dozen high-fidelity tests involving controllers and pilots, and using the world-class simulation facilities at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

NASA transferred the TSAS technologies to the FAA in 2014 for further testing and evaluation. The FAA and NASA completed an operational integration assessment of the tool in May at its William J. Hughes Technical Center at Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey. During the assessment, air traffic controllers put the system through its paces using high fidelity, real-time simulations designed to identify issues related to operational use, such as training, procedures for handling anomalies, and integration with other air traffic control systems.

“Our collaboration with NASA on NextGen technologies is a valuable component of our success,” said Edward Bolton Jr., assistant administrator for NextGen at the FAA. “We look forward to seeing many benefits from TSAS. We expect that it will enhance existing technologies that we use to efficiently handle traffic in the airport environment.”

The FAA received a final investment decision for the program, meaning the agency intends to deploy the capability in the National Airspace System (NAS) beginning with nine major airports located in Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Denver and Los Angeles between 2018 and 2022.

TSAS complements other NASA-developed tools that have been turned over to the FAA the past 20 years to help manage portions of the nation’s air traffic control system.

"The current level of flight deck automation available to the pilot community is underutilized due to a lack of controller automation tools,” said National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative Eric Owens. “TSAS is one more step in the direction of optimizing the NAS.”

Air traffic management software tools such as TSAS are developed by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s Airspace Operations and Safety Program. For more information about NASA’s aeronautics research, visit:



J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington

Paul McKim
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Tammy L. Jones
Federal Aviation Administration, Washington

Last Updated: Aug. 22, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Aeronautics, Ames Research Center, Benefits to You, Reducing Flight Delays,

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June 19, 2015

NASA Joins North Sea Oil Cleanup Training Exercise

Norway's annual Oil on Water exercises allow personnel and equipment to hone their response to oil spills. In this photo from the 2010 exercise, a rescue boat checks the placement of booms by a fishing boat that participated in the cleanup drill. A boom is a floating barrier that fences in spilled oil.

Credits: NOFO

Shortly before its deployment in Norway, NASA's C-20A aircraft was in Iceland, where the UAVSAR instrument monitored changes in ice caps and volcanoes. This photo shows the aircraft being directed to a parking place, with another NASA research aircraft queued behind it. The UAVSAR is mounted in the white pod below the belly of the plane.

Credits: NASA

NASA participated for the first time in Norway's annual oil spill cleanup exercise in the North Sea on June 8 through 11. Scientists flew a specialized NASA airborne instrument called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) on NASA's C-20A piloted research aircraft to monitor a controlled release of oil into the sea, testing the radar's ability to distinguish between more and less damaging types of oil slicks.

Norway's Oil on Water exercise has been held annually since the 1980s, weather and wildlife permitting. In these drills, oil is released onto the ocean and then recovered, giving responders experience with existing cleanup techniques and equipment and a chance to test new technologies.

"This year was special, because we had our own dedicated science experiment in the middle of the training exercise," said Camilla Brekke, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Technology at the University of Tromsø, Norway. Brekke invited scientists Cathleen Jones and Ben Holt from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to participate in the experiment.

The two JPL researchers and Brent Minchew, a colleague from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena (Caltech), recognized UAVSAR's potential to classify the oil in an oil slick during observations of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But since they had only estimates of how much oil was released in the disaster and of the rate of flow, they could not fully check UAVSAR's accuracy. The Norwegian study gave them the chance to do just that.

"Radar has long been thought to be useful only for telling where oil is present," said Jones. "That information is important, but it's not all that's needed to direct the response to an oil spill."

The same accident can create both sheens of oil a few hundredths of an inch thick and heavy, sticky emulsions of oil and seawater, depending on factors such as the weather and length of time since the spill. "Thick emulsions hang around in the environment much longer than a sheen does," Jones explained. "They're more likely to make it to shore to contaminate coastal and tidal zones and to oil sea animals. If we can identify where that high-environmental-impact oil is, cleanup crews can get the most out of the time and people they have."

Radars "see" an oil spill because of a characteristic that the Greek philosopher Aristotle first wrote about 2,500 years ago: pouring oil on water smooths the surface. To an observer, returning radar signals -- called backscatter -- from a smooth, oily sea surface look darker than backscatter from a normal sea surface with small, bumpy waves.

During their observations of the Gulf oil spill, the NASA scientists discovered that the extremely sensitive UAVSAR could also detect another characteristic of oil: compared with seawater, it is a very poor conductor of electricity. Radar waves are reflected well by materials with good electrical conductivity, such as seawater, and not so well by poor conductors like oil. For that reason, the strength of the backscatter from different parts of an oil slick is related to the thickness of the emulsion in each part.

The Norwegian exercise released emulsions of differing thicknesses so that the scientists could have a range of conditions to calibrate the UAVSAR data. The experiment also tested the instrument's ability to distinguish between petroleum and plant-based oil, found in algal blooms. "In the Baltic Sea you will see plenty of these, and they look like oil slicks from [radar on] a satellite," Brekke said.

Norway is one of a few nations worldwide that allow oil to be discharged at sea to test new cleanup technologies and procedures. The Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies runs the Oil on Water exercise -- as well as more than 100 other annual drills in which no oil is released -- to keep its personnel and ships ready to respond to an emergency. This year, Oil on Water was held at the abandoned Frigg Oilfield, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northwest of Stavanger, Norway.

UAVSAR was originally designed to fly on uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs), but currently it flies on in a pod mounted beneath a NASA C-20A piloted aircraft, a version of the Gulfstream III business jet, based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California.

NASA uses the vantage points of air and space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

For more information on UAVSAR, visit:


For more on NASA's Airborne Science program, visit:


For more information about NASA's Earth science activities, see:


Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team


Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Tony Greicius

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, Water,

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May 19, 2015

Software Developed by SERVIR Interns Aids Nepal Earthquake Response

Maps such as these are used by teams on the ground to locate villages and settlements in the quake-impacted areas.The software code developed by the interns makes it possible for the SERVIR team to create a predefined grid to segment the large disaster images into subsets or ‘tiles’ that can be transmitted and received more easily than the large file.


Learn more about ICIMOD Nepal Earthquake

An innovative software code developed by a pair of interns who worked for SERVIR last summer is proving remarkably useful in support of disaster response in Nepal after the April 25, 2015, magnitude 7.8 Gorkha earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

The SERVIR Coordination Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is assisting the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD, in the Himalaya disaster recovery mapping efforts in Nepal. SERVIR and its partners are identifying quake-affected sites and tasking NASA satellites to image them. They are also selecting commercial high-resolution imagery of the most affected areas to support recovery. However, these high-resolution images are too large to be received on location in Nepal, where bandwidth is currently limited.

Developed by summer interns Sajay De La Puente and Xien Thomas under the guidance of Kris Stanton of NASA/SERVIR, the software code makes it possible for the SERVIR team to create a predefined grid to segment the large disaster images into subsets or  ‘tiles’ that can be transmitted and received more easily than the large file, and to reconstruct the pieces on the recipient’s side. It is allowing the recipient -- ICIMOD/SERVIR-Himalaya -- to receive and print the images and provide them to Nepal government agencies to guide recovery efforts and help those in need.

“Our interns are assigned projects to develop solutions for addressing issues relevant to SERVIR’s overall aim: to help developing countries use information provided by Earth observing satellites and geospatial technologies to manage climate risks and land use, “ explains SERVIR Project Director Dan Irwin. “We are so pleased that we can take what they created and use it to help people in a critical real-world situation.”

De La Puente, now a fourth year computer engineering student at Florida International University, and Thomas, studying computer science at Texas Southern, developed the code to enhance SERVIR’s existing Clip, Zip,  and Ship tool. Clip, Zip, and Ship is designed to make it easy for data analysts to get the information they need for making decisions related not only to disaster response but also to environmental issues such as land cover change, ecosystems, and more. With the enhancement engineered by the two interns, the tool can define an area of interest on a map by outlining it with a drawing tool, and automatically download relevant SERVIR datasets (soil, land cover and land use, ecosystems, or any other SERVIR product that has a geospatial element) for that area, extracted from more than 30 gigabytes of spatial data stored across multiple geospatial databases. A background process extracts the data within the selected area, creates a compressed package, and provides links for the files of interest.

This segmenting approach allows the analyst and GIS expert to get information for just the areas they need.

"In the case of the Gorkha earthquake, the information has proven invaluable,” says Irwin.

For more information about SERVIR, visit NASA's SERVIR page or www.servirglobal.net.

Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Last Updated: Aug. 8, 2015

Editor: Jennifer Harbaugh

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, Hazards, SERVIR (Regional Visualization and Monitoring System),

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Benefits to You

April 23, 2015

The View From Up There, Down Here

The completed flight assembly of the High Definition Earth Viewing unit before it was launched to the International Space Station in 2014.

Credits: NASA

A view of Earth from one of the High Definition Earth Viewing cameras mounted on the hull of the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

The iconic "blue marble" view of Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon on December 7, 1972.

Credits: NASA

When many people saw the first stunning photos of the fragile blue marble of Earth from space, it changed their outlook of humanity. It was a singular moment in time when people around the world were watching and looking toward the future as NASA began to turn small steps into giant leaps.

As we continue our recent Earth Day celebration, an investigation on the International Space Station that provides unprecedented panoramic views of our home will celebrate its first year in space.

The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) investigation sent four commercially available cameras housed in a single unit to the station last year on the third SpaceX resupply mission. one year ago, April 30, 2014, a robotic arm extracted the unit from the SpaceX trunk, attaching it to the exterior of the orbiting laboratory, and activated the cameras -- transmitting the mesmerizing views of Earth.

The view switches between the four fixed cameras and streams live online along with a real-time map to track the location of the station for anyone to watch their home planet and enjoy the same view experienced by space station crew members. Since the cameras began broadcasting a live stream a year ago, the number of views is approaching 50 million -- attesting to the popularity of the project.

The primary purpose of the project is not, however, just to share amazing images of Earth.

"The investigation has become multi-purpose for us," said Susan Runco, principal investigator for HDEV at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We are testing the resiliency of long-term exposure of the cameras to space, but in making this live streaming video available for anyone to watch anytime, I think we remind people of just how beautiful our home is and that there are humans on this orbiting platform right now, living and working off the Earth, for the Earth."

There are moments during the stream when viewers are treated to complete darkness as the station passes in Earth's shadow or during a temporary loss of signal from the station. Solar rays and the continuous switching to different ground communications relay stations during the station's orbit can occasionally cause a brief interruption of the video signal. The rest of the time, the cameras transmit a clear image of the planet below.

The cameras are enclosed in a special housing to protect them from the bitter cold of space, but they are still exposed to the harsh radiation of their environment. Scientists will analyze the effect of space on the video quality during the time HDEV is operational.

"We believe this will help engineers decide which cameras are the best types to use on future missions into deep space," Runco said. "Cameras sent up for other investigations on station have returned showing a degradation of the signal. We want to see how long these new cameras can last before the image is no longer useful."

Educational outreach has been an important component of the project through the entire life cycle, not only using the images in the classroom, but also in creating the project itself.

"Through our High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, student teams in the Houston area helped design and build some of the camera structural and support components," said Runco. "More students from the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Houston in Clear Lake, Texas, help operate HDEV and participate in monitoring the effects space has on the cameras."

While the signals from the camera are not recorded on the space station, the video is periodically recorded on the ground to compare images to previous video and analyze how well the systems hold up in the space environment for possible future use.

"Using off-the-shelf products is often more cost-effective than designing new ones for space applications," Runco said. "Ground tests have shown these cameras could survive the simulated space environment, but actual exposure to low Earth orbit will prove how durable they can be for extended missions. We will know more when the cameras are returned to Earth for analysis in 2017."

From the first photos of the fragile blue marble to a live video stream online, such striking views from space may make many people envious that they can't see the view from space with their own eyes, but also thankful to live on such a beautiful planet.

Bill Hubscher
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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April 11, 2015

Mapping Wildfires to Aid Forest Recovery

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New maps of two recent California megafires that combine unique data sets from the U.S. Forest Service and NASA help restore burned forests and protect wildlife. Full story and slide show: http://go.nasa.gov/1HX24xg 

Image credit: NASA

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Tony Greicius

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth,


Feb. 5, 2015

A New Era for Aviation

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NASA Aeronautics is taking off on a journey to jumpstart a new era in aviation.

We’re focusing our research in six areas that include work we've always done to make aviation more sustainable to you and the environment, but that add new explorations of how autonomy and game-changing technologies from other fields could benefit aviation.

We invite you to rediscover the fascinating science of flight; to look up when a plane flies overhead or look around while you fly yourself and realize that this is not the way things will always be (in a good way).

NASA is committed to transforming aviation by dramatically reducing its environmental impact, maintaining safety in more crowded skies, and paving the way toward revolutionary aircraft shapes and propulsion. We continue to work with other government agencies to enable the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System by developing revolutionary air traffic management tools that will increase the efficiency of the National Airspace.

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Lillian Gipson

Tags:  Aeronautics, Benefits to You,

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Jan. 20, 2015

Aeronautics -- State of the Union Sharable

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Aeronautics -- State of the Union Sharable

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Brian Dunbar

Tags:  Aeronautics, Benefits to You,

Oct. 29, 2014

NASA Vehicle Design, Surface Crack Analysis Design Win 2014 Software of the Year Award

Two NASA software design teams have received the agency’s prestigious Software of the Year Award for 2014. one team’s software helps determine the structural loads for aircraft and space vehicles. The second package performs nonlinear surface crack analysis to prevent critical structure failures.

The Configuration-Based Aerodynamics (CBAERO) software package developed by Jeffrey Bowles and David Kinney from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and Loc Huynh of Eloret Corp., also in Moffett Field, is used to predict how NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle, America’s new spacecraft for human space exploration, and other aerospace designs, will react to high temperatures in a variety of simulated flight conditions.

“I am absolutely delighted that the CBAERO team has been honored with this celebrated award,” said Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden. “Their outstanding work has made a significant and lasting contribution to Ames' technology development portfolio and this award adds to our proud legacy.”

CBAERO has been transferred to U.S. industry, academia and government agencies, and includes more than 50 Software Usage Agreements with major U.S. manufacturers of aircraft, helicopters, launch vehicles and spacecraft.

Tool for Analysis of Surface Cracks (TASC) was developed by Phillip Allen, a materials engineer and structural analyst at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The software provides a more thorough understanding of surface crack material fracture toughness – essential to prevent failures – for safer aerospace vehicles and structures. Surface cracks are the most common defect found in engineering structures. The results of the surface crack fracture toughness tests and fracture analyses ensure safe operation of nearly all of NASA's flight and ground support hardware.

“This software is a landmark achievement because it reduces the costs for the government and numerous companies in many engineering fields that conduct this fundamental analysis to ensure structures are safe,” said Marshall Center Director Patrick Scheuermann. “We are pleased to make this valuable contribution and to share in this prestigious NASA award.”

Since its release in January 2014, TASC has been downloaded more than 500 times and is in use by multiple NASA centers, government contractors, aerospace industries and universities.

In addition to the co-winning teams, judges selected two co-winner runners-up awards -- a team from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for “Changing the Aerospace Design Paradigm with FUND3D”, and a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California, for their Ensemble software. A group from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, received an honorable mention for their Engineering Orbital Dynamics (JEOD) 3.0 software.

Every NASA center and facility is invited to participate in the agency’s annual Software of the Year competition, which is sponsored by the NASA Chief Engineer, the NASA Chief Information Officer, and the NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. A Software Advisory Panel with representatives from across the agency reviews the entries and recommends winners to the Inventions and Contributions Board.

The competition allows the agency to recognize and appreciate NASA team members who set high standards for significant software that is creative, usable, transferable, and possesses inherent quality.

For more information about NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board, visit:


Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Loff

Tags:  Benefits to You,

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Sep. 16, 2014

Tech Transfer

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For over 50 years, NASA has created new technologies with direct benefit to the public sector, supporting global competition and the economy. The resulting commercialization has contributed to products and services in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity.

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Benefits to You, Technology,

Benefits to You

Sep. 16, 2014

NASA Invests in our Future

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As students and teachers head back to the classrooms for another school year, NASA continues to invest in the future through commitments to technology development and innovation. NASA is committed to cultivating knowledge and building a strong future workforce through STEM education.

Last Updated: Sep. 4, 2015

Editor: Loura Hall

Tags:  Benefits to You, Technology,

May 14, 2014

Earth Science Applications Travelogue: Maury Estes

When you think about the beneficiaries of NASA Earth observations, does the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) come to mind? It should!

To find more about NASA’s connection to the ocean blue, research scientist Maury Estes embarked on a weeklong research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico to learn how fisheries experts, scientists and oceanographers use satellite-derived data in fishery field studies.

Estes is an associate program manager for ecological forecasting in the applied sciences program at NASA’s headquarters. While in the field, he will serve as a member of the science team, with regular duties during 12-hour shifts to drop nets and process samples in labs. His thoughts about daily life onboard the research vessel, interviews with crewmembers, pictures and video will be posted here.

Applied Science

Satellite data shows changes over time in bluefin tuna spawning patterns

Credits: ROFFS

You might be wondering what in the world NASA has to do with marine fisheries. The trip is part of ongoing NASA applied science research focused on possible effects of climate change on Atlantic bluefin tuna and other highly migratory fish species in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding waters. The goal is reliable ecological forecasts that give decision-makers access to science-based tools for understanding changes in living systems.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) routinely uses satellite observations such as sea surface temperature, topography and ocean color in its surveys and stock assessment process for Atlantic bluefin tuna and other highly migratory fish species.

The applied research project led by Dr. Mitchell Roffer of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service in Melbourne, Florida, aims to enhance this innovative habitat model by applying it to possible climate change scenarios. The goal is reliable forecasting of how habitats might change over the next 100 years.

Roffer’s delivers information products using NASA and NOAA satellite observations and computer models downscaled to the Gulf region to direct ships where they’re most likely to find Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae.

“The purpose of this cruise is to verify our habitat models by analyzing where and under what conditions larvae are,” Roffer said.

Better habitat models mean more reliable forecasting. More reliable forecasts give researchers and decision-makers better tools for understanding living systems.

Why Study Tuna?

Bluefin tuna larvae.

Credits: ROFFS

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the largest and most valuable fish in the sea. The species is important to commercial and recreational fisheries in the United States and abroad. The species is slow growing with a long life expectancy, making it susceptible to overfishing. Populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna have been declining since the 1970s, necessitating annual fishing quotas.

Despite climate variability, Dr. Roffer explained that bluefin tuna are managed largely under the assumption that ecological parameters do not change over time.

Who is Involved?

The NASA-funded "applications" research project brings together a multi-sector and multi-disciplinary research team, including government, academic and industry partners. The research team is made up of NOAA government fishery experts, managers and satellite researchers; scientists from University of Miami Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and University of South Florida Institute for Marine Remote Sensing; and Roffers’ Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, Inc.

Bon voyage, Maury! You can follow his travelogue at the links below:

May 11, 2014
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May 21, 2014

By Molly Porter
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Media Contact: Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
256-544-0994, janet.l.anderson@nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Brooke Boen

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth,

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Dec. 21, 2013

NASA Administrator Meets With Thomas Jefferson High School Cubesat Team

Don't say these students have spaced out.

Former students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., made history in November 2013 when the nanosatellite they developed launched to space. It was the first time that a NASA-sponsored cubesat was designed and launched by a high-school team.  University students designed the 10 other cubesats deployed from the U.S. Air Force Minotaur rocket.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden met with the high school students and toured the lab in suburban Washington D.C. where this small satellite – TJ3Sat – was built.

"The talented students who built TJ3Sat and those following in their footsteps are modern-day explorers – using advanced technology to uncover the secrets of our solar system," Bolden said. "The emergence of nanosatellites is advancing scientific discovery and unleashing the economic potential of space."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden talks with students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in Alexandria, Va.

Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

TJ3Sat is a cubesat -- a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites, which measure approximately four inches long, have a volume of about one quart and weigh about three pounds. It's about the size of a toaster-pastry box but three times as heavy. TJ3Sat contains a voice synthesizer module designed to take written phrases in the form of code and produce a phonetic voice reading on the satellite's downlink frequencies.

The TJ3Sat wasn't the only piece of space history made on Nov. 19. The cubesat was part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative carried aboard Orbital Sciences demonstration mission launch to the International Space Station – the first such launch for the company and a first for the Mid-Atlantic Spaceport at Wallops Flight Facility, Va. The cubesats, NASA's fourth Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) mission, deployed from their protective cases into Earth's orbit about 20 minutes after liftoff.

ELaNa missions, conducted under NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, give students, teachers and faculty hands-on experience developing flight hardware by providing access to a low-cost avenue for research. Since its inception in 2010, the CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected more than 90 cubesats from primarily educational and government institutions around the United States. NASA chose these miniature satellites from respondents to public announcements for the agency's CubeSat Launch Initiative.

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Loff

Tags:  Benefits to You, CubeSats,

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Jan. 28, 2009

Alternative Jet Fuels Put to the Test

Test instrumentation is set up behind the inboard engines of NASA’s DC-8 airborne science laboratory during alternative fuels emissions and performance testing at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

Credits: NASA Dryden / Tom Tschida

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NASA and 11 other research groups are testing two non-petroleum-based jet fuels in the pursuit of alternative fuels that can power commercial jets and address rising oil costs.

NASA Langley’s Bruce Anderson and United Technologies’ David Liscinsky install tubing to connect pressure ports located on the exhaust inlet probe with sensors located in equipment trailers.

Credits: NASA Dryden / Tom Tschida

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The tests, being run through Feb. 3 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California, are measuring the performance and emissions of two synthetic fuels derived from coal and natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch process. These fuels have drawn attention because they have the energy necessary for commercial flight.

Harvard graduate student Ben Lee tunes the optics on the quantum-cascade-laser methane isotope sensor.

Credits: NASA Dryden / Tom Tschida

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The Fischer-Tropsch process is a chemical reaction in which a synthesis gas -- a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen -- is converted into liquid hydrocarbons of various forms. The process produces synthetic petroleum for use as a lubricant or fuel.

The technology has been around for decades, but until now the high cost of building new plants to produce synthetic fuels has stymied interest. The United States does not have any Fischer-Tropsch plants, although synthetic fuel is produced using this process elsewhere in the world.

Some companies have tried out synthetic fuels in proprietary tests. Unlike those, the results of these NASA tests will be in the public domain because researchers are obtaining them with a NASA plane.

A DC-8 based at Dryden in Edwards, Calif., is the test vehicle because its engine operations are well-documented and well-understood. The airplane remains on the ground for the tests, which are using one fuel made from natural gas and one from coal. Researchers are testing 100 percent synthetic fuels and 50-50 blends of synthetics and regular jet fuel. Almost all previous testing has considered only blends. Researchers are looking primarily at engine performance and aircraft emissions.

"We’re starting to look at just what comes out of the tailpipe of a commercial aircraft [that is burning alternative fuels]," said Bruce Anderson, a scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., who serves as project scientist for the Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment, also known as AAFEX.

It is thought that synthetic fuels create fewer particles and other harmful emissions than standard jet fuel. If this is found to be true, use of synthetic fuels could improve the air quality around airports.

The tests are using sampling probes placed downstream from the DC-8's right inboard engine. Researchers examine the plume chemistry and particle evolution to compare it to that of standard jet fuel.

NASA is one of many organizations working to understand how non-petroleum alternatives may be used to satisfy the growing demand for less expensive, cleaner burning fuel for aviation.

"We’re still very much in the early research stage," said AAFEX project manager Dan Bulzan of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "[But] we know in the future these fuels are going to become important to aviation. Petroleum is dwindling and you're going to need to make fuel out of coal, natural gas and biomass."

The AAFEX tests are funded and managed by NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program, which is part of the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The participating research groups include three other government agencies, five companies and three universities.

Patrick Lynch
NASA's Langley Research Center

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Maria Werries

Tags:  Aeronautics, Benefits to You, Green Aviation, Technology,

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Nov. 26, 2008

Study Investigates Mental Overload in Pilots

Test subject Maciej "Mac" Zborowski wears headgear with optical sensors to measure his brain activity.

Credits: NASA

Read Mac's Blog and Ask Questions

Have you ever felt as if your brain was so full of information that you couldn't process another thing? Mental overload creates confusion and frustration, and for airline pilots, the consequences can be disastrous. 

A flight simulator creates the feeling of flying a plane under a variety of conditions.

Credits: NASA

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Researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland are studying how advanced technology can be used to warn pilots when they are operating under dangerous levels of stress, fatigue and distraction. Biomedical engineer and lead researcher Angela Harrivel and research associate Terri McKay are testing the effectiveness of functional near infrared spectroscopy, also known as fNIRS. This emerging technology offers a non-invasive, safe, portable and inexpensive method for monitoring brain activity.

It uses infrared light to penetrate skin, brain and fluid to examine blood flow in the cortex and check the concentration of oxygen in the blood indicating neural activity.

"We ultimately want to use the technology to help pilots be more aware of their cognitive abilities during flight," says Harrivel. "No matter how much training they have, pilots could suffer from a lack of situational awareness when there is simply too much going on."

Pushing the limits

The scientists have fitted a kickboxing helmet with fNIRS optical sensors. In the study, Glenn volunteers don the helmet and sit in a moving cockpit simulator to give them a sensation of flying. The test subjects are presented with a variety of distractions and stress-inducing conditions as they use a joystick and flight instruments to stay "airborne" in virtual mode.

"Flying involves a lot of multitasking which can push the limits of human performance. During the simulation we purposely increase difficulty to add stress and confusion to see how they react and measure brain activity during overload," Harrivel explains.

Harrivel will redesign the headgear to make it more practical for everyday use if the research proves functional near infrared spectroscopy to be a reliable technology for monitoring pilot cognition.

Harrivel says the research also could reveal ways to simplify the delivery of information in the cockpits of commercial aircraft. Flight computers could be designed to detect dangerously high levels of distraction or stress and supply only the most critical data to the pilots until the situation is under control. The goal is to help pilots make better decisions to ensure the safety of their passengers.

One of the test subjects is Glenn employee Jim Withrow, himself a licensed pilot. "The ability to maintain situational awareness is critical, both in high stress areas and in periods when pilot demands are very low," Withrow said. "This research is reaching out to ensure that pilots get and keep their head in the game."

Most of the test subjects are not licensed pilots. Researchers enlisted both licensed and unlicensed pilots to participate in order to ensure a mix of participants - those who were enthusiastic about the tests because of their flight experience, and those who had little or no flight experience but could demonstrate performance improvement over time. The study is overseen by NASA's Integrated Intelligent Flight Deck Project, which is managed and funded by the Aviation Safety Program of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Nancy Smith Kilkenny (SGT, Inc.)
NASA's Glenn Research Center

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Maria Werries

Tags:  Aeronautics, Benefits to You,

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