Spaceflight Insider

NASA Administrator visits Langley Research Center

NASA Langley Research Center located in Hampton, Virginia. Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

HAMPTON, Va. — NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made his second stop on a tour of NASA research facilities Tuesday, July 31 at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

LaRC's primary responsibilities deal with aeronautical research. However, the Apollo Command Module and other spacecraft have also been put through their paces at the Center. Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

LaRC’s primary responsibilities deal with aeronautical research. However, the Apollo Command Module and other spacecraft have also been put through their paces at the Center. Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

The facility is the oldest of NASA’s field stations, and was established by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1917. The center focuses its research on aviation, understanding changes in the atmosphere and climate, and developing technology for use in space.

As a former naval aviator, having flown the E2 Hawkeye and spending time at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Bridenstine seemed to be excited to be back in the area.

“Langley is really doing amazing work in a whole host of areas. When it comes to studying the climate, enabling us to understand the weather and doing the earth science that is critical to our world, Langley is intricately involved in all of those activities,” Bridenstine said. “When it comes to aeronautics and making sure the United States maintains its preeminence for the purpose of developing new technologies to enable more efficient and safe flight”

The focus of the tour was on space technology that would aid in crewed lunar and Martian missions, the first of which was the Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS). This is part of a collaboration with Northrup Grumman and involves on orbit servicing and assembling. This is what Senior Research Engineer John Dorsey described as a “construction site in space.”

Also on display was the Tendon-Actuated Lightweight In-Space MANipulator (TALISMAN), the NASA Intelligent Jigging and Assembly Robot (NINJAR) and the Strut Assembly, Manufacturing, Utility & Robotic Aid (SAMURAI). These tools could be used to build the backbone and truss systems for various structures including system platforms, or large solar electric or thermonuclear vehicles. TALISMAN acts as the long reach manipulator, while NINJAR and SAMURAI move and connect different components.

Next on Bridenstine’s tour was deceleration technology.  

Bridenstine expressed his excitement over an array of projects that LaRC was working on. Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

Bridenstine expressed his excitement over an array of projects that LaRC was working on. Photo Credit: Steve Hammer / SpaceFlight Insider

Principal Technologist Michelle Monk explained that, “We have a long heritage of atmospheric flight that we have applied to every atmosphere in the solar system, and we are reaching the end of our current technology path.”

Also on display was the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD). It is a giant cone assembled from different sized inner tubes and would be used for landing larger, heavier payloads on planets.

LaRC’s work is expansive with engineers experimenting with different materials, designs and tests including the IRVE-3 at Wallops Island and other projects in other locations.  

The last stop on the tour was the Expandable Habitat Engineering Unit. This is NASA’s hybrid (rigid and soft elements) habitat and is a collaboration with ILC Dover (the same company that produced components for spacesuits used during the Apollo Program). The unit is a rigid capsule that upon landing can expand using its soft elements to provide larger habitable space for astronauts.

In speaking with reporters, Bridentsine remarked that as a former pilot, one of the projects at Langley that really impressed him is the new supersonic technology.

“I get really excited about aeronautic capabilities. One of the big missions here that has America excited, to the extent that they know about it, is the low-boom flight demonstrator,” Bridenstine said. “The idea that we’re going to fly from one side of the United States to the other side faster than the speed of sound, and do it in a way that creates a boom or sonic crack that will be sufficiently low that the American public won’t even know that something overhead just broke the sound barrier… that will transform how we think about aviation in this country.”

Bridenstine also commented on NASA’s role in climate studies and expressed the need for a clearer understanding about climate change.

“What NASA does, we help policy makers understand what is happening with our changing planet — and our planet is changing. The big take away is this; Everybody I talk to absolutely believes we need to understand how and why the planet is changing. What NASA does is supply the science. What the policymakers do with that information, that’s another matter that NASA doesn’t get involved in. NASA is absolutely committed to supply the dispassionate science. As far as policy makers that make the decisions on what to do with science NASA provides, that’s another matter.”

 

 

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