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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research 4 Aeronautics Research INTRODUCTION Aeronautics research at NASA is managed by the ARMD at NASA Headquarters. The overarching mission of the ARMD is to advance U.S. technological leadership in aeronautics in partnership with industry, academia, and other government agencies that conduct aeronautics-related research. ARMD supports Goal 3 of the NASA Strategic Plan for 2007-2016: developing a balanced overall program of science, exploration, and aeronautics. More specifically, the requirements of the program are defined in Subgoal 3E: advance knowledge in the fundamental disciplines of aeronautics, and develop technologies for safer aircraft and higher-capacity airspace systems. Specifically, under Subgoal 3E: 3E1. By 2016, identify and develop tools, methods, and technologies for improving the overall aircraft safety of new and legacy vehicles operating in the Next Generation Air Transportation System (projected for the year 2025). 3E2. By 2016, develop and demonstrate future concepts, capabilities, and technologies that will enable major increases in air traffic management effectiveness, flexibility, and efficiency, while maintaining safety, to meet capacity and mobility requirements of the Next Generation Air Transportation System. 3E3. By 2016, develop multidisciplinary design, analysis, and optimization capabilities for use in trade studies of new technologies, enabling better quantification of vehicle performance in all flight regimes and within a variety of transportation system architectures. 3E4. Ensure the continuous availability of a portfolio of NASA-owned wind tunnels/ground test facilities, which are strategically important to meeting national aerospace program goals and requirements. The ARMD research plans also directly support the National Aeronautics R&D Policy and accompanying Executive Order 13419.1 Beginning in 2007, NASA restructured aeronautics research into four programs: The Vehicle Systems Program is now the Fundamental Aeronautics Program (FAP). NASA will invest heavily in the core competencies of aeronautics in all flight regimes to produce knowledge, data, and design tools that are applicable across a broad range of air vehicles. This program is made up of four projects: subsonic rotary wing, subsonic fixed wing, supersonics, and hypersonics. 1 Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/aero-natpl an-2007.pdf and http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/aero-techa ppen-2008.pdf.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research ARMD responsibilities include the continued stewardship of NASA’s many aeronautics test facilities, including wind tunnels and propulsion test cells that are considered to be national assets in its ATP. As the operation of the national airspace system transitions to the Next-Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) to attain higher capacity, new ways of achieving and ensuring safety will be needed to reduce accidents and maintain a low rate of aviation fatalities. Through the Aviation Safety Program (AvSP), formerly the Aviation Safety Security Program, NASA will pursue capabilities and technologies for improving safety consistent with the revolutionary changes in vehicle capabilities and changes embodied in the NGATS. The focus will be vehicle-centric, with areas of investigation that include advanced automation, advanced sensing and sensor and information fusion, and proactive approaches to achieving safety and ensuring continued safe operations. This program is made up of four projects: integrated vehicle health management (IVHM), integrated intelligent flight deck (IIFD), integrated resilient aircraft control (IRAC), and aging aircraft and durability. NASA realigned its Airspace Systems Program (ASP) to address NGATS capacity and mobility requirements. NASA’s primary research role will be to develop and demonstrate future concepts, capabilities, and technologies that will enable dramatic increases in air traffic management effectiveness, flexibility, and efficiency while maintaining safety. This program is made up of two projects: NGATS Airportal and NGATS Airspace. Fundamental aeronautics research in each program emphasizes research through collaboration and partnerships, shared ideas and knowledge, and solutions that benefit the public. In planning the future research programs, NASA receives input from the National Research Council (NRC) in its decadal surveys and other reports. These reports represent the broad consensus of the nation’s scientific communities in their respective areas. Roadmaps in each of the aeronautics programs are then developed to define the pathways for implementing the NRC-defined priorities. The research in these programs is executed by the four aeronautics research centers within NASA: LaRC, ARC, GRC, and DFRC. Each of these programs—FAP, ATP, AvSP, and ASP—has program and project managers, principal investigators (PIs), and researchers assigned from across the four research centers. The research conducted in these programs is primarily at TRL 1-3, fundamental research. In FY 2010, a new program, the Integrated Systems Research Program, was started to conduct research at an integrated system level on promising concepts and technologies. It is intended to explore and demonstrate in a relevant environment the four programs by transitioning their results to higher TRLs. The TRL 1-3 research in aeronautics supports the fundamental needs of the projects and includes research in materials and structures, aerodynamics, propulsion, acoustics, fuels, avionics, airspace traffic management, crash/impact, and instrumentation and controls. Facilities, laboratories, and research equipment are needed to conduct the research outlined in the ARMD programs. In many cases, the facilities that house the research laboratories or the large wind tunnels and propulsion cells are 40 to 50 years old. Some have been upgraded and some are in need of repair; some have even been demolished. Some of the equipment in the laboratories is fairly modern, however, ranging from new to 10 years old. As described in Chapter 3, new aeronautics facilities are funded within NASA by CoF funds, and upgrades to facilities, laboratories, and equipment are either funded by the research program or out of a center’s CM&O budget. Sometimes, external customers (industry or other government agencies) that use NASA facilities and equipment fund upgrades or new equipment if they are needed to complete their research. GLENN RESEARCH CENTER The main focus of GRC in aeronautics is in the propulsion area. Over the course of 2 days, the committee visited 20 laboratories or facilities (see Appendix D for a list), all of which included some
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research level of TRL 1-3 activities. The Research and Technology (R&T) Directorate at GRC is organized into five technology divisions: Power and In-Space Propulsion, Aeropropulsion, Structures and Materials, Space Processes and Experiments, and Communications, Instrumentation, and Controls. Trends in Funding for Aeronautics at GRC The R&T Directorate at GRC comprises 484 civil servants and 280 contractors, plus the laboratories and equipment needed to conduct their research. ARMD provides approximately 60 percent of GRC’s R&T funding. In FY 2009, the ARMD funding was approximately $42.7 million.2 Roughly two-thirds of that funding is focused on TRL 1-3 research and is provided primarily by the ARMD’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program. Some funding for maintaining and upgrading the larger facilities is provided by ATP. In many cases, these facilities are used for work at all TRLs and not just for TRL 1-3. GRC-wide TRL 1-3 funding for aeronautics and space decreased from $75 million in FY 2005 to approximately $66 million in FY 2009. Funding for GRC’s aeronautics activity is shown in Figure 4.1. Under ATP, GRC has standardized systems in its facilities so the technician crews can be moved around. This is required with a smaller workforce, although it is not necessarily desirable in all situations. The GRC ATP facilities (the Abe Silverstein 10- by 10-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel [10×10 SWT], the 8- by 6-foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel [8×6 SWT], the 9- by 15-foot Low-Speed Wind Tunnel, the Icing Research Tunnel [IRT], and the Propulsion Systems Laboratory [PSL]) do have a funding line for maintenance and modernization. The Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory (AAPL) is also an ATP facility, but it does not now receive funding for maintenance and modernization. The other smaller laboratories and facilities do not receive ATP funding. In the 1990s, the ATP facilities received about $17 million per year, which dropped to $8 million per year in the first decade of the 21st century and $4.9 million in FY 2010. The laboratories do recover some maintenance funds through their use charges to customers, primarily for reimbursable work. The current backlog for maintenance and repair at GRC is $90 million.3 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) money has funded two major facility projects: PSL Icing and IRT Refrigeration Plant. There is no long-range strategy for GRC’s TRL 1-3 research laboratories as there is for the ATP facilities. They can hardly fund their current needs. The R&T Directorate of GRC would like to have a strategic plan and a funding line for its facilities, as ATP has for its large facilities. Currently, GRC’s CM&O is not funding any IRAD work with the R&T researchers. Individual PIs typically have $10,000 to $20,000 for equipment purchases from their individual projects, which is insufficient for large purchases of equipment. 2 Jih-Fen Lei, GRC, presentation to the committee, October 14-15, 2009. 3 GAO, Federal Real Property: Government’s Fiscal Exposure from Repair and Maintenance Backlogs Is Unclear, GAO-09-10. Available at http://www.gao.gov/htext/d0910.html.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 4.1 Glenn Research Center’s annual aeronautics funding trends. NOTE: The data include labor, procurement, travel, and service pool funding and have been normalized to reflect changes in full-cost accounting methods from FY 2004 through FY 2007. Construction-of-facilities funding has been excluded. Subsonics-Rotary Wing (Rotorcraft) was embedded in the Subsonics-Fixed Wing project in FY 2006. Funding in FY 2006 to FY 2007 reflected the return of foundational and long-term research focus for aeronautics. FY 2009 does not include stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) funding. SOURCE: Janet Barth, Associate Division Chief, GSFC, March 3, 2010. Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics The following laboratories and facilities at GRC that the committee visited are associated with aerodynamics and aeroacoustics: AAPL, IRT, 10×10 SWT, and 15×15-cm SWT. All four facilities are capable of doing TRL 1-3 level research, although AAPL, IRT, and the 10×10 SWT are larger facilities that are frequently used for higher TRL work as well. In general, NASA’s TRL 1-3 work is funded by FAP. The AAPL is uncommon in its ability to do fundamental fluid dynamics and aeroacoustics research, although comparable production-testing commercial facilities do exist at General Electric and the Boeing Company. The IRT is a very well known, historical NASA Glenn facility that supports fundamental research in icing, including technology development, and both in-house and external applications. It is a unique national facility, though smaller such facilities do exist in Italy and Canada, and it exemplifies a NASA facility that historically was used primarily for TRL 1-3 research. However, NASA staff estimate that only 15 to 20 percent of the research being conducted in this facility is at TRL 1-3. Upgrades to the control system, the refrigeration systems, the spray bars, and heat exchanger have all been identified as high priorities. The 10×10 SWT is another unique facility that is specifically designed to test supersonic aerodynamic and propulsion components in an integrated fashion.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research In recent years, the share of TRL 1-3 research in this facility has declined, primarily owing to the cost of running the facility. Recently, most TRL 1-3 research is piggybacked onto higher TRL programs. The 15×15-cm SWT is a small facility used to conduct small-scale experiments, including instrumentation development and fundamental supersonic flow studies. This facility is ideal for TRL 1-3 R&D and is frequently used before instrumentation or concepts are transitioned to a higher TRL. Though it is relatively inexpensive to operate, the cost structure for power use is changing and will make it more expensive and difficult to operate in the future. The facility is fully funded by the supersonics and hypersonics projects within FAP, and there are planned upgrades to the instrumentation and pressure systems to respond to pressure safety certification issues. In general, the aerodynamics and aeroacoustics facilities at GRC are out of the ordinary compared to other facilities that are available for doing TRL 1-3 research. While ATP is providing maintenance funding for the larger facilities (those that can do work above TRL 1-3), the smaller facilities are dependent on funding from FAP, both for personnel (full-time equivalent) and facility and equipment upgrades, and from multiple other sources. The equipment in these facilities all appeared to be adequate to meet current requirements, though much of it is in need of upgrading. Propulsion and Power The following laboratories and facilities at GRC that the committee visited are associated with propulsion and power: Intermediate pressure combustion facility, Combustion control laboratory/fuel actuator dynamic characterization rig, Plasma flow control facility, Low-pressure turbine flow control facility, and Single-stage axial compressor facility. All five of these facilities are focused on TRL 1-3 research and are primarily funded by the subsonic fixed-wing, supersonic, and hypersonic projects in FAP. They support fundamental research in engine design and testing, emissions and alternative fuels research, and work in flow control. All facilities employ a wide array of diagnostics—particle image velocimetry (PIV) and pulsed laser-induced fluorescence, among others—used for generating validation data for computational fluid dynamics codes. They operate in laboratory-scale environments for fundamental research and in general have adequate equipment for performing TRL 1-3 research, although all of the researchers identified various pieces of equipment that they thought would improve the quality of their research. However, since their work is mostly funded out of FAP, the projects have few resources for significant equipment or instrumentation upgrades. Additionally, technician support for these smaller facilities is essentially nonexistent. The low levels of funding means that many of the researchers must work alone because they cannot afford to keep on full-time technicians. Materials and Structures The following laboratories and facilities at GRC that the committee visited are associated with materials and structures: Chemical vaporization deposition laboratory, Nanotube processing laboratories (NPLs), Pulsed laser deposition laboratory (PLDL),
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Polymer composite processing laboratory (PCPL), High-temperature mass spectrometry laboratory (HTMSL), Laser high heat flux test laboratories, and Structural benchmark testing facility (SBTF). The vast majority of these laboratories are focused on the development of materials and/or coatings that can be used in engine or power generation applications for high-temperature (less than 3000°F) environments. These laboratories span the gamut of old to new. The equipment also ranges from recent purchases to some that are more than 30 years old. In general, these are laboratories with one PI. The funding support for these facilities is also varied. For example, the NPL is a result of an earlier NASA-wide investment in nanotechnology. However, recent investments have been low, and the equipment is probably not at a level to meet NASA goals. Conversely, the PLDL and the HTMSL are now almost fully funded by outside agencies such as the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and DOE. The PCPL is a unique NASA facility for processing high-temperature composites and nanocomposites. Approximately 60 percent of the work in the laboratory is TRL 1-3 and funded by FAP. The other 40 percent is mid-TRL funded by ESMD. This is an example of a laboratory that has more work than the staff can accommodate. The SBTF is also a rather unusual facility, with only one other facility like it in the world. However, like the PCPL, this laboratory, which has funding from both the SMD and FAP, was reported to be limited more by manpower than by equipment. In general, the equipment associated with these laboratories and facilities appears to range from adequate to deficient in some cases. While the FAP funds most of the activity, a couple of the laboratories are totally dependent on outside funding. The work being performed in these laboratories is focused on GRC’s mission in propulsion and engine technology. While both ARC and LaRC also have materials and structures laboratories, their focus is mostly different from that of GRC. Ames’s focus is on thermal protection systems, and Langley’s is on large structures. Alternative Fuels Two of the laboratories and facilities visited at GRC are associated with alternative fuels: Alternative fuel research laboratory (AFL) and Bio-mass optimization green laboratory (BOGL). These two laboratories are recent additions to GRC’s focus on the development of alternative fuels for aircraft applications. Both are fully funded by the FAP and have recently enjoyed investments in infrastructure and equipment to support their TRL 1-3 research. They support NASA’s high-profile growth area of developing alternative fuels. In general, the equipment is more than adequate and is meeting the needs of the PIs at both facilities. The AFL investment has been about $3.5 million, whereas the BOGL capability could be reproduced for approximately $150,000. Instrumentation and Controls The Instrumentation and Controls Laboratory is focused on thin-film and chemical sensors for high-temperature (several hundreds of degrees) environments. The laboratory comprises a series of clean rooms from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It has been upgraded in the past 8 years, and the primary support is from FAP, with most of the equipment being purchased for individual projects. In general, the equipment is adequate, although additional funding is being sought from DOE and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the NASA investment begins to decline.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Central Control Building Many of the laboratories and facilities at GRC, primarily the larger ones, are dependent on the Central Control Building for electricity and air supply. The funds to support this building come from ATP and CM&O since it is a center resource. With the exception of a large 50-year-old transformer that is in need of replacement, the rest of the equipment (compressors, exhausters, and larger transformers) is in excellent condition. Since many of the large facilities at GRC are not running at full capacity, the support provided by this physical plant appears to be meeting the needs of the users. Concluding Remarks On average, the facilities and equipment at GRC would be rated as adequate or deficient with respect to meeting NASA’s aeronautics goals. With the establishment of the FAP and the ATP, improvements have been realized in funding and/or providing support for basic research. However, funding remains insufficient to maintain the facilities and equipment at state-of-the-art levels. The less expensive equipment in the smaller laboratories is for the most part adequate. GRC is home to several unique facilities that are maintained by the ATP. However, the available research budgets are insufficient to operate some of these facilities solely for TRL 1-3 activities. Additionally, some of these facilities—for example, IRT—will require major equipment upgrades that are unlikely to be funded by the FAP or ATP. Central support services for electricity and air supply appear to be adequate, especially since the most important equipment has been modernized in recent years and is not being fully used. Of greater concern to the management and staff at GRC is the lack of resources for supporting technicians and the purchase of basic equipment. The problem of technician support is more serious, because contract technical personnel do not necessarily have the memory bank that is associated with civil-servant technicians devoted to supporting GRC. This is particularly important for laboratories that are running high-speed machinery, which has special instrumentation and safety issues. Laboratories with one PI do not have the financial resources for technician support, and while purchases at $10,000 to $20,000 can reasonably be supported by the FAP, more expensive equipment is usually out of reach unless paid for by supplemental funds from Congress. Researchers are forced to use older or out-of-date equipment or to scavenge equipment from other laboratories. Finally, both management and staff are concerned that without a greater investment in fundamental research and the associated equipment, recruiting the next generation of researchers to meet NASA’s goals will be difficult. GRC is home to several unique and important facilities for fundamental aeronautics, aeroacoustics, and propulsion-related research. Facilities such as the IRT and the AAPL have no equals for conducting TRL 1-3 research. Many of the smaller laboratories with one PI could at least in theory be duplicated at a reasonable cost; however, the larger facilities would require a much larger investment. For NASA to maintain its leadership in aeronautics, aeroacoustics, and propulsion, increased investments in facilities, equipment, and support staff will be needed. GRC has some very specialized aeronautics facilities and personnel, and these assets should be preserved if NASA is to achieve its goals.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research LANGLEY RESEARCH CENTER Trends in Aeronautics Funding at LaRC LaRC was founded in 1917, and the first aeronautical research facilities were in place by 1920, making it the first government aeronautical laboratory in the United States; approximately 38 percent of the buildings at Langley are now more than 40 years old.4 The Langley workforce onsite is made up of 1,891 civil servants and 1,873 contractors,5 and the total budget of the center is approximately $700 million.6 Figure 4.2 shows that LaRC has broad capabilities in the area of aeronautics research. Its maintenance investment history went from a low of about $16 million in FY 2007 to $29 million in FY 2009. About 10 percent of those funds are spent each year to maintain TRL 1-3 facilities and equipment. Although no full quantitative record of the maintenance budget was available, it was stated that the LaRC CM&O budget program funds (such as ATP and SCAP), congressional augmentation, and ARRA funds make up or constitute the maintenance budgets. Neither of the last two sources is stable or reliable for long-range planning. In FY 2009, LaRC made a $28.9 million maintenance investment in the center, which accounts for 0.8 percent of the CRV,7 which is below the 2 to 4 percent of CRV (corresponding to an investment of between $68.3 million and $137.7 million), which is the guideline widely quoted in facilities management literature.8 Thus, it would appear that the CM&O budget is inadequate by generally accepted maintenance standards for supporting the laboratory/facility building, supporting hardware, and also the data systems and associated software. The committee members did not review all the aeronautics-related laboratories and facilities at Langley but toured a representative group of 24 laboratories and test facilities (see Appendix D), which provided the needed insight and information about LaRC’s facilities and support equipment. LaRC is attempting, to some extent, to standardize and centralize data acquisition and measurement systems, which will require significant resources to accomplish. Many of the legacy test instruments at LaRC are obsolete, and parts are no longer readily available. Although there is generally some concern (since parts for some of these instruments are being purchased on the Web through eBay), LaRC has rated its test instrumentation status as good. 4 George Finelli, LaRC, “Institutional Support Infrastructure,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009. 5 Charlie Harris, LaRC, “Center Support Staff,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009. 6 Supplemental data provided November 6, 2009. 7 George Finelli, LaRC, “Institutional Support Infrastructure,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009. 8 William L. Gregory, member, NRC Committee to Assess Techniques for Developing Maintenance and Repair Budgets for Federal Facilities, to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, Hazardous Material and Pipeline Transportation, April 29, 1999.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 4.2 FY 2004 through FY 2009 aeronautics research funding sources and trends at Langley Research Center. SOURCE: Janet Barth, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, “LaRC Aeronautics Research Funding Trends For FY 2004-FY 2009,” provided to the committee, December 3, 2009. Currently, two-thirds of the technician workforce is contractor-provided, and one-third is from the civil service. LaRC is moving toward an all-contractor technical workforce; its support services would be strengthened if it simultaneously develops a strategy to retain the technical competence within the government workforce. Langley researchers provided several examples pointing to the conclusion that, as a general rule, there is an inadequate technician workforce to fully support all the work in the laboratories and facilities at LaRC, and in some areas there is currently no NASA technician expertise. Committee members familiar with the LaRC laboratories concurred in this conclusion. One omen of future problems is that non-NASA-reimbursable work at LaRC accounts for about 2 percent of the workforce,9 and it was reported that the staff there are continually looking for more non-NASA reimbursable work to sustain themselves and their laboratory or facility. The result is that efforts are diverted as researchers seek funding from outside NASA for work that may not be completely consistent with NASA’s goals. During conversations with LaRC staff, it was noted that paperwork processes, such as information technology (IT) security and procurement processes, could be improved to reduce the nonproductive workload. If these processes cannot be streamlined, then more qualified staff will be needed. Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics The following laboratories and facilities at LaRC that the committee visited are associated with the aerodynamics and aeroacoustics: 9 Cynthia Lee, LaRC, e-mail communication to the committee, February 12, 2010.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Basic aerodynamics research tunnel, Supersonic low disturbance wind tunnel, 20-in. supersonic wind tunnel, 20-in. Mach 6 tunnel, Liner technology facility, 8-ft high-temperature tunnel, 14 × 22-ft subsonic tunnel, 31-in. Mach 10 tunnel, National transonic facility, The jet noise laboratory, and The small anechoic laboratory. The focus of the work in these laboratories is the assessment of the aerodynamics and aeroacoustics performance provided by new technology. There are two distinct groups of laboratories/facilities at LaRC: (1) small laboratories with a few staff to support them, such as the liner technology facility, and (2) large facilities, such as wind tunnels, with complex equipment requiring several staff to operate them. Most of the facilities that support aerodynamics and aeroacoustics research are in the second class. All of the laboratories that the committee visited that support these areas of research rely on support services, such as high-pressure air. The apparent NASA practice on research facility operation is to “operate to failure,” which was obvious at the air compressor station. As an example, about 4 years ago the LaRC compressor station had serious failures, and the station has not operated at full capacity since that time. During those years, about $10 million was invested in repair and maintenance.10 Clearly the costs of maintaining this facility properly would have been less than those of repairing it after failure. There were some repairs, such as foundation repair, that would have been avoided, and there are costs associated with the delay of testing and inefficiencies in air production that occurred as a result of the failure. Although no data were provided, the continued low maintenance investments make it likely that some other laboratory/facility support system, such as the electrical distribution system, is also being operated to failure. It should be noted that in the past CoF funds were used for long-range investment planning for maintenance and upgrade projects on large research facilities. With deferred maintenance at all NASA centers at a level of approximately $2.5 billion, as noted earlier, the amount of approximately $150 million of CoF funds available for all of the NASA facilities, including the repair by replacement program being implemented, leaves many large maintenance projects and upgrades uncompleted. Thus, when a large facility fails (the LaRC air station, for example), the facility will be nonoperational or operating at less than its needed capability for a long time while the center gathers the needed resources any way that it can. The research data acquisition systems for most of the large facilities that support this area of research are old (the average age is 13 years).11 Parts, even second-hand parts, are very hard to find, even at organizations such as e-Bay. Thus, as these data acquisition systems eventually fail, the laboratory may have to be shut down for extended periods; there is also an increased risk that with time the data produced may not be of the highest quality. As indicated earlier, ATP and SCAP have no funding for maintaining the LaRC wind tunnels over the long term. Although the two programs are able to solve some immediate but relatively modest 10 Charles Mills, Facility Engineer, LaRC, “Compressor Station, Building 1247E,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009. 11 Allen Kilgore, Director, Facilities Engineering and Real Property, NASA Headquarters, “Test Instrumentation,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research maintenance issues, the resources available will not be able to pay for large-scale maintenance or significant facility upgrades. This is evidenced by the need to use ARRA resources to upgrade some of the data acquisition systems at LaRC’s major facilities. The laboratories and facilities that support these technology areas are generally adequate at this time and only somewhat below par compared with equivalent foreign facilities, but there has not been enough money to update all the systems, such as data acquisition and facility controls. Most of the facilities visited (overall, they support aerodynamics- and aeroacoustics-related research) have specialty testing in their suite of test capabilities, but in most cases they are not unique. They do, however, provide test Reynolds numbers at subsonic and transonic speeds higher than any in the world, making that capability unique. During conversations with the staff of the facilities, it became clear that new test technologies and capabilities are not being developed because all that is being worked on are the research topics that directly support the current specific goals of NASA programs. In years past, technologies were developed that were not necessarily needed to satisfy a program objective; now they are vital for these current programs. In the not-too-distant future, NASA will have to depend on old test capabilities and those that can somehow be procured; this enforced reliance will make NASA aerodynamics and aeroacoustics testing capabilities second class when compared to those of other testing organizations around the world. The buildings housing some of the laboratories and facilities were old, high-bay areas with poor general lighting. In some cases the office spaces for personnel supporting these laboratories and facilities were not close by the facility or were second-class space. Materials and Structures The following laboratories and facilities at LaRC that the committee visited are associated with the materials and structures: Polymers and composites laboratory, Light alloy laboratory, Materials research laboratory, Structures and materials laboratory, Systems and airframe evaluation testing and integration laboratory, Fabrication and metals technology development laboratory, and Non-destructive evaluation sciences laboratory. Some materials and structures facilities and laboratories at LaRC are small, others are large, from the polymers and composites laboratory and the light alloy laboratory, which explore materials and their composition from the molecular level (small facilities) to the James H. Starnes Laboratory with the capability of testing entire components (large facilities). The materials and structures research and development at LaRC focuses on lightweight, multiobjective, and multifunctional structures such as polymer matrix composites. The facilities and laboratories rely on a variety of central services for electricity, high-pressure air, and so on, many of which are being “run to failure.” These laboratories are nearly 100 percent utilized. Investments in these laboratories, based on the CRV, represent at most an annual investment of 1 to 7 percent of the CRV in the polymers and composites laboratory, 0.4 to 7 percent of the CRV in the light alloy laboratory, 5 to 10 percent of the CRV in the materials research laboratory,12 and 0 to 2 percent 12 Mia Siochi, Head, Advanced Materials and Processing Branch, LaRC, “Polymers and Composites Lab/B1293C” and “Light Alloy Lab/B1205,” information on first three laboratories from the presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research of the CRV in the James H. Starnes Laboratory.13 However, as the infrastructure continues to age, it is routinely tested against the standards for the FCI, at which point it is widely recognized by NASA and other agencies that a larger investment will have to be made in the future. Materials and structures R&D at LaRC suffer from many of the same issues as those affecting aerodynamics and aeroacoustics. In general, the necessary test technologies were not being developed, and researchers had no viable method for testing novel materials or structures or staff to use a technology if available. However, there are some cutting-edge TRL 1-3 laboratories at LaRC, as well as at ARC and GRC in some materials areas. For example, LaRC’s developed testing (imaging) technologies for carbon nanotubes by magnetic force microscopy and nanomaterials by resonant difference-frequency atomic force ultrasonic microscopy. These capabilities reside in small laboratories with very expensive equipment that requires specialized handling and utilization. In these small laboratories a power interruption would seriously damage and could potentially destroy equipment and capabilities. Despite this risk, these small laboratories operate without any power backup, which constitutes a serious oversight. Larger facilities also have these challenges. However, relative to the smaller laboratories, which are contained within a larger building, the larger facilities can have additional maintenance issues—for example, basic systems such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. For example, during the site visit the James H. Starnes Laboratory was without heat, and it was not clear when heat for the facility would be restored. As is the case at other NASA centers, DM budgets are confusing and appear to be convoluted. The usual practice in research laboratories is to organize funding for maintenance depending on whether the item or event of interest can be specifically associated with a facility (building) and/or a program, and its priority. In reality, however, it seems to too often depend on multiple sources, where it can be negotiated. This creates an additional burden. Although researchers acknowledge the need to spend some of their time searching for funding that provides equipment and instrumentation, the committee believes that spending 30 to 50 percent of their time in this pursuit is an inefficient use of highly skilled personnel. Dynamics, Navigation and Control, and Avionics This technology focuses on the processes for achieving a desired end state or position of an aircraft or spacecraft. Laboratories in this area visited at LaRC include the following: Flight dynamics experimental techniques laboratory, Laser/lidar research laboratory, High intensity radiation facility, AirSTAR and mobile operations system, and Landing and impact research facility. At LaRC low-TRL work in dynamics, navigation and control, and avionics is typically funded through ARMD for the subsonic fixed- and rotary-wing work, integrated resilient aircraft control, and integrated vehicle health management projects. Dynamics, navigation and control, and avionics laboratories appear to be adequate, or, more accurately, the committee was not aware of any specific challenges for these laboratories. However, this judgment must be taken with skepticism, since the current investment will not sustain many of these laboratories for as long a time as it did for the flight dynamics 13 David Brewer, Head, Structural Mechanics and Concepts Branch, LaRC, “John H. Starnes Lab/1148,” presentation to the committee, October 21, 2009.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research laboratory, which is 63 years old and appears to receive only minimal funding for new equipment and upgrades (0.2 to 1.5 percent of the CRV).14 The multiple, separate IT systems being used to support its research in this area create a burden for researchers in transferring or accessing data across LaRC, so that standardizing the IT systems would result in more efficient operations. Intelligent and Autonomous Systems, Operations and Decision Making, Human Integrated Systems, and Networking and Communications The laboratories at LaRC visited by the committee in this technical area include the following: Air traffic operations laboratory (ATOL), and Cockpit motion facility. LaRC gets roughly 30 percent of the funding that NASA receives for airspace systems R&D (Figure 4.2). The airspace systems program focuses on revolutionary concepts, capabilities, and technologies that enable significant increases in the capacity, efficiency, and flexibility of the National Air Transportation System—NextGen—concepts, technology development, systems analysis integration, and evaluation. Research on crew systems and aviation operations at LaRC is carried out in the ATOL, the cockpit motion facility, the differential maneuvering simulator (DMS), the visual motion simulator, the test and evaluation simulator, and the research systems integration laboratory. The ATOL comprises more than 300 computing platforms (individual personal computers and blades) and allocates one for each aircraft being simulated. Each simulation includes a six-degree-of-freedom (trajectory) aircraft model, a flight management system, and a flight management computer emulation. Four two-crew aircraft simulators are being installed. Four air traffic control (ATC) stations enable human-in-the-loop (HITL), which can be used for studies with pilot test subjects and confederate air traffic controllers. The ATOL may be connected by means of high-level architecture-type gateways to other facilities—for example, ATC facilities. The ATOL reportedly developed 100 percent of the codes that it uses, but they have not yet been validated against external data. Current validation depends only on a credible HITL. The ATOL is roughly 10 years old and has grown from 400 ft2 to approximately 4,200 ft2 in that time. The CRV of the ATOL is estimated at $4.5 million.15 At this time, the laboratories supporting this area of research are adequate to carry out the required work. Concluding Remarks The committee observes as follows regarding the adequacy of the laboratories and facilities at LaRC to support future low-TRL work: As a whole, the large laboratories and facilities that support aeronautics and aeroacoustics are less advanced or less well maintained compared with similar foreign facilities. Based on the committee’s assessment at LaRC, because it does not have adequate resources to invest in the maintenance, test technology development, and laboratory/facility upgrades, NASA and—accordingly—the United States will not have competitive test capabilities in the not-too-distant future. 14 Gautan Shah, Member, Flight Dynamics Branch, LaRC, “Flight Dynamics Experimental Techniques Lab, B1212,” presentation to the committee, October 22, 2009. 15 “A Presentation to the NRC Research Lab Assessment Committee,” LaRC site visit, October 21-22, 2009.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research The small laboratories and facilities that support aerodynamics and aeroacoustics are for the most part in good condition and compare favorably with similar foreign laboratories. Laboratories and facilities that support materials and structures research and development are adequate; however, the test technologies lag state of the art, directly affecting the quality of the R&D conducted there. These new test technologies are driven by the science of evaluation, including the evaluation of novel concepts, not solely by program goals. If a new test technology waits for a program to require it, it will not be available when it is needed. There is a shortage of skilled technicians at LaRC to support the laboratories and facilities. This leads to an additional workload for the researcher and to inefficient operations. Not only are additional skilled technicians needed, but because LaRC is working toward an all-contractor technical workforce, it must remain a smart customer and manager in this area. The IT and procurement processes at LaRC are arduous and time-consuming. For example, IT at LaRC is made up of multiple independent systems, each of which has its own security. Simply moving data from a test site to an office for analysis and reporting is cumbersome. It would be helpful to the staff supporting the laboratories and facilities if these processes could be coordinated and streamlined; this would give them time to focus more on the work of the laboratories and facilities. The committee witnessed a great deal of concern among researchers about NASA’s future viability. Besides challenges in conducting research, many of those interviewed cited instances where potential new researchers elected to go to other laboratories due to the condition of facilities and equipment. Many researchers expressed the belief that NASA will not be able to maintain its core capabilities let alone to develop them. The demands of programs in recent years, coupled with a nearly constant total budget, have resulted in a shifting of funds away from low-TRL work to such an extent that NASA might be described as “eating its own seed corn.” AMES RESEARCH CENTER The information on ARC is based on presentations to the committee by the deputy director of ARC on September 9, 2009, and by ARC’s director of aeronautics at the time of the aeronautics subcommittee’s visit to ARC on November 9 to 10, 2009. It is supplemented by information gathered by the subcommittee during its visit. Trends in Funding for Aeronautics at ARC ARC is active in ASP, AvSP, and in the four components of FAP—subsonic fixed-wing, subsonic rotary wing, supersonics, and hypersonics. Two of its large facilities, the 11-ft transonic unitary wind tunnel and the 9 × 7-ft supersonic unitary wind tunnel, are supported under ATP.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research FIGURE 4.3 Research funding trend for aeronautics at Ames Research Center. SOURCE: Thomas Edwards, “NASA Ames Research Center,” presentation to the committee, November 9 and 10, 2009. Funding for ARC’s aeronautics activity is shown in Figure 4.3. Low-TRL research in air traffic management started in FY 2004. Significant funding was later added to complete the Advanced Air Transportation Technology project. The additional funding starting in FY 2006 reflected the return of foundational and long-term research foci for aeronautics. Increases in FY 2007 and FY 2008 funding relative to FY 2006 benefited from congressional augmentation. The FY 2009 ARC aeronautics research budget is about $120 million, which is 24 percent of the NASA aeronautics budget, on top of which there is approximately $10 million more in ATP funding. At present, the main ARMD activity at ARC is for ASP; next largest is for AvSP; and only about $30 million of the FY 2009 budget is for FAP. Most ARC aeronautics work is low TRL, and whatever low-TRL work there is, is program-driven. The ARC aeronautics program is staffed by about 200 civil servants and 200 contractor personnel. Many of the contractor personnel are in fact students, some of whom are pursuing advanced degrees at their universities. It was pointed out to the committee that there is an inability to properly maintain the facilities. For example, the high-pressure air system at ARC is not certified to present seismic standards but is too costly to upgrade at this time. Also, the ARC supercomputer, the use of which is oversubscribed by NASA customers, lacks an uninterruptible power supply. The latter, which would cost about $15 million, has been ARC’s top CoF request for a number of years, but it has yet to be funded. With regard to facility maintenance, ATP and SCAP do well enough for the present, taking care of the major facilities. But in the low-TRL areas where research is subject to the principles of full-cost management, the staff, equipment, and maintenance are funded only by the programs. Some congressional augmentation funds have been incorporated into program budgets and are being used to procure needed equipment for laboratories. ARC is not putting any CM&O funds into equipment and maintenance as it did in the past. This substantiates the impression that NASA practice is to operate
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research facilities to failure. Furthermore, it is not clear how DM and CoF numbers influence maintenance policy and decisions. Aerodynamics and Aeroacoustics The following laboratories and facilities at ARC that the committee visited are associated with aerodynamics and acoustics: Fluid mechanics laboratory, and Hypervelocity free flight facility. The bulk of the funding for aerodynamics and acoustics at ARC comes from FAP. Although approximately $10 million of the FAP is devoted to subsonic rotary-wing work, the experimental component of the work is done in the large facilities such as the national full-scale aerodynamics complex; the 40 × 80 × 120-ft tunnel now leased to the U.S. Air Force and operated by Arnold Engineering Development Center; the U.S. Army’s 7 × 10-foot wind tunnel; and the ARC vertical motion simulator (VMS). The aging VMS (circa 1979) needs revitalization to address future facility reliability. VMS is an SCAP facility, but SCAP has not been providing maintenance or modernization funds. It receives some modernization funds from programs. There do not seem to be any facilities at ARC that are specifically for low-TRL work in subsonic rotary wings. The Fluid Mechanics Laboratory is in a well-lit high bay area in a building built in 1985. Between 2002 and 2005, several wind tunnels at the laboratory were scrapped: a boundary layer tunnel, a mixing layer tunnel, a Mach 1.6 “quiet” tunnel, and a dynamic stall facility. The remaining tunnels are all low speed (Mach < 0.5). The laboratory’s main activity is instrumentation development, but that is only funded to meet specific program needs. Their work also supports subsonic fixed-wing, supersonic, and hypersonic research. Pressure-sensitive paint (PSP) was first demonstrated in this laboratory in 1987. It is at present working on high-speed schlieren for supersonic tunnels, three-dimensional particle image velocimetry that can be used in many facilities, including the vertical gun range, and a photogrammetric recession measurement system for use in the arc jets for thermal protection system (TPS) ablation testing. The researchers continue to look at ways of minimizing the temperature sensitivity of PSP and are developing an oil-film skin friction interferometer. They do some acoustic research for the subsonic fixed wing program using microphones and phased arrays in the 40 × 80 × 120-ft tunnel and the unitary tunnels. They use the anechoic chamber under the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex for basic research. The supersonics project is funding fluid-structure interaction research on inflatable supersonic decelerators for planetary entry. It is very proud of what it calls the “Hill” experiment, a complex three-dimensional subsonic flow where it uses many of the above diagnostic techniques to provide a well-documented experimental database for assessing the ability of computer codes to predict flow separation and complex flow behavior in separated regions. The staffing is 25, including 16 civil servants and 1 technician. They are not collaborating very much with universities because of limited funding. They are trying to get some biofluid mechanics funding to help pay salaries. The facilities are adequate, but facility maintenance is not. The fluid mechanics laboratory is funded by projects with no additional upkeep funding from NASA. The Hypervelocity Free Flight Facility (HFFF) is the only facility of its type in the United States doing aerodynamics studies. It has the capability of both shadowgraph and thermal imagery and can run with different gases in the test range. It is currently receiving FAP hypersonics funding for studies of surface roughness- and trip-induced transition in both air and carbon dioxide (CO2) at hypervelocity speeds. It also does work for SMD and ESMD and did special work for the Shuttle Return-to-Flight program. It is nominally an ESMD facility but is not supported by ATP or SCAP. Since this facility is subject to full-cost recovery, it has been difficult to attract outside customers. The HFFF carries out about 50 shots every year, with full capacity being 2 shots per day. HFFF is 35 years old and has not been
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research modernized; for example, it will need to upgrade to digital shadowgraphy because film will be unavailable in the future, which would cost $1 million or $2 million. The facility is minimally staffed by one full-time equivalent civil servant and three contractor technicians who are shared between HFFF and the ARC vertical gun range. Materials and Structures The following laboratories and facilities at ARC that the committee visited are associated with the materials and structures: Arc Jet Complex, TPS materials processing laboratory, High-temperature TPS processing laboratory, TPS materials characterization laboratory, Nanotechnology laboratory, and Advanced diagnostics and prognostics testbed. The Arc Jet Complex has as its principal mission the testing of TPS materials. It is in a building that dates from 1962. The arc jet technique was developed at ARC and they have the patent on constricted (segmented) arc heaters. The complex is nominally an ESMD facility. It has eight test bays, four of which are empty. Three of the four that are occupied have 20-MW arc jets, while the fourth has a 60-MW arc jet. These are more powerful than the arc jets at LaRC and JSC. The big upgrade needed by ESMD may be a 75-MW arc jet in one of the empty bays. The complex is an SCAP facility, but support from SCAP is insufficient. CoF funding is needed to replace a very old boiler, but such funding is not available, and the programs will not pay for it. The condition of the instrumentation, controls, and data acquisition system is adequate for the operating research programs. The researchers do testing for all the mission directorates but get very little funding for capital equipment. Whatever equipment funding they do get comes from congressional augmentation to ARMD. FAP hypersonics funds TPS development in the arc jets but has trouble getting on the schedule because better-funded projects are given priority. About 25 percent of the work in the Arc Jet Complex is low-TRL work. The TPS materials processing laboratory (the only TPS laboratory in NASA) is also nominally an ESMD facility. The laboratory has developed the heat shield for Stardust and is at present developing the heat shield for Orion. It consists of an organic chemistry wet laboratory, ceramic tile presses, and custom-designed equipment to enable the rapid prototyping of advanced ablating heat shield materials. It also has high-temperature furnaces that can reach up to 2000°C and state-of-the-art computer-controlled milling equipment and support systems for arc jet test model preparation and instrumentation. The equipment is up to date and modern, but the space is a bit crowded. Associated laboratories are the high-temperature TPS materials processing laboratory and the TPS materials characterization laboratory. These three laboratories occupy contiguous space. Routine maintenance for the laboratories comes out of their project funding. The development of advanced ablator materials for NASA missions is supported by FAP hypersonics. Two materials developed at ARC are being used for flight vehicles. Funds are needed to support the development of nanotube TPS capability. Nanotubes in TPS can increase the material strength by 50 percent. The total staffing for all of these laboratories is four full-time equivalent civil servants and five contractors. The IVHM of AvSP supports the Advanced Diagnostics and Prognostics Testbed (ADAPT). ADAPT develops algorithms to predict the remaining lifetimes of aerospace components and subsystems; these, in turn, would affect decisions on scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. The algorithms are validated in various hardware-in-the-loop testbeds. The laboratory has a staff of 15, one-third of them civil servants and two-thirds contractor personnel, with a large number of interns each year. Researchers
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research publish a lot to get their results out to the public. The laboratory itself is extremely cramped and may even be unsafe. Staff would like to work on additional aerospace components and subsystems, but do not have enough space. It also needs new equipment but does not have enough money for procurement. It gets some equipment through SBIR and industrial cooperative agreements. The AvSP/IVHM program only wants to fund labor costs, not more floor space or equipment. Intelligent and Autonomous Systems, Operations and Decision Making, Human Integrated Systems, Networking and Communications The following laboratories and facilities at ARC that were visited by the committee are associated with this area of research: Air traffic management laboratory, Flight deck display research laboratory, and Crew vehicle systems research facility. The Airspace Systems Program of NASA has a budget of $100 million per year, $70 million of which is spent at ARC and $30 million at LaRC. The research is well coordinated between ARC and LaRC, and both centers collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) North Texas Research Station and through the Joint Planning and Development Office. Some of ARC’s work is funded by the Volpe Transportation Center, the FFRDC for the FAA. The workforce is 50 percent civil servants and 50 percent contractors. Contractor personnel do coding and equipment maintenance, and civil servants do research and program planning. Their objectives are to improve traffic flow, utilize continuous descent to save fuel, and increase landing capacity at airports by focusing on time throughput, not just spatial throughput. The air traffic management laboratory was built 20 years ago but has been updated often. It has live links with all 20 ATC centers and receives live weather from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The ASP invests $1 million annually in the laboratory by means of congressional augmentation. Even though it is in the oldest building at ARC, the condition of the laboratory is more than adequate, and it has state-of-the-art equipment. Both this laboratory and the one at Langley are world-class, and they are linked at high speeds for joint simulations. They sometimes get FAA funding, but ASP usually funds them to full capacity. The staff consists of 35 civil servants doing research, 100 university contractors doing some research and software development, and between 5 and 10 technicians. When the research reaches higher TRLs, it is handed off to FAA. The flight deck display research laboratory is funded 50/50 by ARMD and ESMD. ARMD funding is 15 percent from ASP and 85 percent from AvSP. The staff consists of 1.5 full-time-equivalent civil servants and 6 contractors to do HITL simulations. The laboratory was recently renovated with funding from ASP to optimize the space. As its work moves to higher TRLs, ARC is beginning to get FAA funding. The IIFD program of ASP funds its flight deck instrumentation. The crew vehicle systems research facility has three components: an ATC laboratory that is linked to FAA for flexible low-fidelity research; the advanced concepts simulator, which was built in 1985 and had motion added in 1992; and a 747-400 simulator that was built with motion in 1985 and has the highest fidelity. Both simulators have new visual simulations and get funding from ASP. They are housed in a building built in 1985. In the 747 simulator researchers are using AvSP-IRAC funding to investigate landing a damaged airplane. The simulators are owned by SCAP but have not gotten any SCAP money for maintenance. There is no known facility in the United States with similar integrated flight/ATC simulation capability.
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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research Concluding Remarks On average, the laboratory facilities for low-TRL work at ARC are adequate. Most are accommodated in older buildings that originally housed other activities. In many cases the laboratory equipment is only marginally maintained, mainly because there is not enough funding. Exceptions are the air traffic management laboratory and the TPS materials processing laboratory, both of which have up-to-date equipment. There are also major infrastructural deficiencies at ARC: The high-pressure air system is not certified to the latest seismic standards, and the supercomputer lacks an uninterruptible power supply. ARC researchers spend most of their time doing mission-focused work, to the detriment of their fundamental research activities. On top of that, much of their fundamental research time is spent writing multiple proposals, because each project does not provide adequate funding and then the multiple research projects require satisfying several reporting channels. This is an inefficient use of a researcher’s time. The ARC researchers cannot afford to do research in large facilities because of their high cost and the inadequate research project funding, so they are driven to their own small laboratories. The shortage of technicians at ARC means that researchers often do the work of the technicians. The situation for low-TRL work at ARC in many ways resembles that at other NASA aeronautics centers. DRYDEN FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER DFRC has as its aeronautics mission to “perform flight research and technology integration to revolutionize aviation and pioneer aerospace technology.” ARMD supplies 30 percent of DFRC funding and 43 percent of its workforce expense. In FY 2009, it had a workforce of 560 civil servants, 650 on-site contractors, and a total budget of $247 million. However, none of its activity is low-TRL research as such. Rather, it maintains a number of testbed and support aircraft on which low-TRL payloads can be mounted. These testbeds provide platforms for sensor validation, aerodynamic, system, and propulsion research and testing. The test staff for this work is supplied by the PIs associated with the payloads. The associated DFRC staff concerns itself with ascertaining the load limits, ground clearances, and controllability of the aircraft with the external load and provides data acquisition interfaces with the aircraft. Examples of recent low- to moderate-TRL experiments are the Gulfstream Quiet Spike Flight Test for sonic boom suppression with the spike mounted from the nose of the F-15B aircraft, and supersonic laminar flow control on a model mounted below the F-15B aircraft.