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Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research
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.