October 3 is National Techies Day…and here at NASA we have quite a few people who get REALLY excited about technology. Without techies and the technology they develop, we wouldn’t be able to do the amazing things we do at NASA, or on Earth and in space.
We love our techies! The passionate engineers, researchers and scientists who work on our technology efforts enable us to make a difference in the world around us. They are responsible for developing the pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed to achieve our current and future missions.
Research and technology development take place within our centers, in academia and industry, and leverage partnerships with other government agencies and international partners. We work to engage and inspire thousands of technologists and innovators creating a community of our best and brightest working on the nation’s toughest challenges.
Technology Drives Exploration
Our investments in technology development enable and advance space exploration. We are continually seeking to improve our ability to access and travel through space, land more mass in more locations, enable humans to live and explore in space and accelerate the pace of discovery.
Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
When traveling to other planetary bodies, each and every pound of cargo matters. If we can reduce the weight by building tools once we arrive, that’s less weight we need to launch from Earth and carry through space.
Additive manufacturing is a way of printing three-dimensional (3-D) components from a digital model. If you think of a common office printer, it uses a 2-D file to print images and text on a sheet of paper. A 3-D printer uses a 3D file to deposit thin layers of material on top of each other, creating a 3-D product.
Discover more about how our techies are working with advanced manufacturing HERE.
Our techies are always innovating and developing new cutting-edge ideas. We test these ideas in extreme environments both here on Earth and in space.
Science missions in space require spacecraft propulsion systems that are high-performance, lightweight, compact and have a short development time. The Deep Space Engine project is looking to meet those needs. Our techies are currently testing a 100lbf (pound-force) thruster to see if this compact, lightweight, low-cost chemical propulsion system can operate at very low temperatures, which allows long duration storage capabilities.
Another technology in development is PUFFER, or the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot…and it was inspired by origami! This robot’s lightweight design is capable of flattening itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit. PUFFER has been tested in a range of rugged terrains to explore areas that might be too risky for a full-fledged rover to go.
With our partners at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., we’ve also collaborated on the Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM), which will flight test a “green” alternative to the toxic propellant, hydrazine, in 2018. GPIM is the nation’s premier spacecraft demonstration of a new high-performance power and propulsion system — a more environmentally friendly fuel. This technology promises improved performance for future satellites and other space missions by providing for longer mission durations, increased payload mass and simplified pre-launch spacecraft processing, including safer handling and transfer of propellants.
Find out more about our technology demonstrations HERE.
What if you could travel from London to New York in less than 3.5 hours? Our techies’ research into supersonic flight could make that a reality!
Currently, supersonic flight creates a disruptive, loud BOOM, but our goal is to instead create a soft “thump” so that flying at supersonic speeds could be permitted over land in the United States.
We’re conducting a series of flight tests to validate tools and models that will be used for the development of future quiet supersonic aircraft.
Did you know that with the ability to observe the location of an aircraft’s sonic booms, pilots can better keep the loud percussive sounds from disturbing communities on the ground? This display allows research pilots the ability to physically see their sonic footprint on a map as the boom occurs.
Did you know that some of the technology used in the commercial world was originally developed for NASA? For example, when we were testing parachutes for our Orion spacecraft (which will carry humans into deep space), we needed to capture every millisecond in extreme detail. This would ensure engineers saw and could fix any issues. The problem was,there didn’t exist a camera in the world that could shoot at a high enough frame rate – and store it in the camera’s memory – all while adjusting instantly from complete darkness to full daylight and withstanding the space vacuum, space radiation and water immersion after landing.
Oh…and it had to be small, lightweight, and run on low power. Luckily, techies built exactly what we needed. All these improvements have now been incorporated into the camera which is being used in a variety of non-space industries…including car crash tests, where high resolution camera memory help engineers get the most out of testing to make the cars we drive safer.
Learn about more of our spinoff technologies HERE.
Join Our Techie Team
We’re always looking for passionate and innovative techies to join the NASA team. From student opportunities to open technology competitions, see below for a list of ways to get involved:
NASA Solveis a gateway for everyone to participate in our mission through challenges, prize competition, citizen science and more! Here are a few opportunities:
Vascular Tissue Challenge
The Vascular Tissue Challenge, a NASA Centennial Challenges competition, offers a $500,000 prize to be divided among the first three teams that successfully create thick, metabolically-functional human vascularized organ tissue in a controlled laboratory environment. More information HERE.
10 “Spinoffs of Tomorrow” You Can License for Your Business
The job of the our Technology Transfer Program is pretty straight-forward – bring NASA technology down to Earth. But, what does that actually mean? We’re glad you asked! We transfer the cool inventions NASA scientists develop for missions and license them to American businesses and entrepreneurs. And that is where the magic happens: those business-savvy licensees then create goods and products using our NASA tech. Once it hits the market, it becomes a “NASA Spinoff.”
If you’re imagining that sounds like a nightmare of paperwork and bureaucracy, think again. Our new automated “ATLAS” system helps you license your tech in no time — online and without any confusing forms or jargon.
So, sit back and browse this list of NASA tech ripe for the picking (well, licensing.) When you find something you like, follow the links below to apply for a license today! You can also browse the rest of our patent portfolio - full of hundreds of available technologies – by visiting technology.nasa.gov.
1. Soil Remediation with Plant-Fungal Combinations
Ahh, fungus. It’s fun to say and fun to eat—if you are a mushroom fan. But, did you know it can play a crucial role in helping trees grow in contaminated soil? Scientists at our Ames Research Center discovered that a special type of the fungus among us called “Ectomycorrhizal” (or EM for short) can help enhance the growth of trees in areas that have been damaged, such as those from oil spills.
2. Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag
When it comes to aircraft, drag can be, well…a drag. Luckily, innovators at our Armstrong Flight Research Center are experimenting with a new wing design that removes adverse yaw (or unwanted twisting) and dramatically increases aircraft efficiency by reducing drag. Known as the “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design to Lower Drag (PRANDTL-D)” wing, this design addresses integrated bending moments and lift to achieve drag reduction.
3. Advancements in Nanomaterials
What do aircraft, batteries, and furniture have in common? They can ALL be improved with our nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are very tiny materials that often have unique optical, electrical and mechanical properties. Innovators at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have developed a suite of materials and methods to optimize the performance of nanomaterials by making them tougher and easier to process. This useful stuff can also help electronics, fuel cells and textiles.
4. Green Precision Cleaning
Industrial cleaning is hard work. It can also be expensive when you have to bring in chemicals to get things squeaky. Enter “Green Precision Cleaning,” which uses the nitrogen bubbles in water instead. The bubbles act as a scrubbing agent to clean equipment. Goddard Space Flight Center scientists developed this system for cleaning tubing and piping that significantly reduces cost and carbon consumption. Deionized water (or water that has been treated to remove most of its mineral ions) takes the place of costlier isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and also leaves no waste, which cuts out the pricey process of disposal. The cleaning system quickly and precisely removes all foreign matter from tubing and piping.
5. Self-Contained Device to Isolate Biological Samples
When it comes to working in space, smaller is always better. Innovators at our Johnson Space Center have developed a self-contained device for isolating microscopic materials like DNA, RNA, proteins, and cells without using pipettes or centrifuges. Think of this technology like a small briefcase full of what you need to isolate genetic material from organisms and microorganisms for analysis away from the lab. The device is also leak-proof, so users are protected from chemical hazards—which is good news for astronauts and Earth-bound scientists alike.
6. Portable, Rapid, Quiet Drill
When it comes to “bringing the boom,” NASA does it better than anyone. But sometimes, we know it’s better to keep the decibels low. That’s why innovators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a new handheld drilling device, suitable for a variety of operations, that is portable, rapid and quiet. Noise from drilling operations often becomes problematic because of the location or time of operations. Nighttime drilling can be particularly bothersome and the use of hearing protection in the high-noise areas may be difficult in some instances due to space restrictions or local hazards. This drill also weighs less than five pounds – talk about portable power.
7. Damage Detection System for Flat Surfaces
The ability to detect damage to surfaces can be crucial, especially on a sealed environment that sustains human life or critical equipment. Enter Kennedy Space Center’s damage detection system for flat composite surfaces. The system is made up of layered composite material, with some of those layers containing the detection system imbedded right in. Besides one day potentially keeping humans safe on Mars, this tech can also be used on aircrafts, military shelters, inflatable structures and more.
8. Sucrose-Treated Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Yarns and Sheets
We all know what a spoonful of sugar is capable of. But, who knew it could help make some materials stronger? Innovators at NASA’s Langley Research Center did! They use dehydrated sucrose to create yarns and woven sheets of carbon nanotubes and graphene.
The resulting materials are lightweight and strong. Sucrose is inexpensive and readily available, making the process cost-effective. Makes you look at the sweet substance a little differently, doesn’t it?
9. Ultrasonic Stir Welding
NASA scientists needed to find a way to friction weld that would be gentler on their welding equipment. Meet our next tech, ultrasonic stir welding.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center engineers developed ultrasonic stir welding to join large pieces of very high-strength, high-melting-temperature metals such as titanium and Inconel. The addition of ultrasonic energy reduces damaging forces to the stir rod (or the piece of the unit that vibrates so fast, it joins the welding material together), extending its life. The technology also leaves behind a smoother, higher-quality weld.
10. A Field Deployable PiezoElectric Gravimeter (PEG)
It’s important to know that the fuel pumping into rockets has remained fully liquid or if a harmful chemical is leaking out of its container. But each of those things, and the many other places sensors are routinely used, tends to require a specially designed, one-use device.
That can result in time-consuming and costly cycles of design, test and build, since there is no real standardized sensor that can be adapted and used more widely.
To meet this need, the PiezoElectric Gravimeter (PEG) was developed to provide a sensing system and method that can serve as the foundation for a wide variety of sensing applications.
See anything your business could use? Did anything inspire you to start your own company? If so, head to our website at technology.nasa.gov to check them out.
When you’ve found what you need, click, “Apply Now!” Our licensing system, ATLAS, will guide you through the rest.
If the items on this round-up didn’t grab you, that’s ok, too. We have hundreds of other technologies available and ready to license on our website.
And if you want to learn more about the technologies already being used all around you, visit spinoff.nasa.gov.
The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.
Air travel, spaceflight, robotic solar-system missions: science fiction to those alive at the turn of the 20th century became science fact to those living in the 21st.
America’s aerospace future has been literally made at our Langley Research Center by the best and brightest the country can offer. Here are some of the many highlights from a century of ingenuity and invention.
Making the Modern Airplane
In times of peace and war, Langley helped to create a better airplane, including unique wing shapes, sturdier structures, the first engine cowlings, and drag cleanup that enabled the Allies to win World War II.
In 1938 Langley mounted the navy’s Brewster XF2A-1 Buffalo in the Full-Scale Tunnel for drag reduction studies.
Wind Goes to Work
Langley broke new ground in aeronautical research with a suite of first-of-their-kind wind tunnels that led to numerous advances in commercial, military and vertical flight, such as helicopters and other rotorcraft.
Airflow turning vanes in Langley’s 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel.
Aviation Hall of Famer Richard Whitcomb’s area rule made practical jet flight a reality and, thanks to his development of winglets and the supercritical wing, enabled jets to save fuel and fly more efficiently.
Richard Whitcomb examines a model aircraft incorporating his area rule.
Langley researchers laid the foundation for the U.S. manned space program, played a critical role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and developed the lunar-orbit rendezvous concept that made the Moon landing possible.
Neil Armstrong trained for the historic Apollo 11 mission at the Lunar Landing Research Facility,
Safer Air Above and Below
Langley research into robust aircraft design and construction, runway safety grooving, wind shear, airspace management and lightning protection has aimed to minimize, even eliminate air-travel mishaps
NASA’s Boeing 737 as it approached a thunderstorm during microburst wind shear research in Colorado in 1992.
Tracking Earth from Aloft
Development by Langley of a variety of satellite-borne instrumentation has enabled real-time monitoring of planet-wide atmospheric chemistry, air quality, upper-atmosphere ozone concentrations, the effects of clouds and air-suspended particles on climate, and other conditions affecting Earth’s biosphere.
Crucial Shuttle Contributions
Among a number of vital contributions to the creation of the U.S. fleet of space shuttles, Langley developed preliminary shuttle designs and conducted 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests to analyze aerodynamic forces affecting shuttle launch, flight and landing.
Space Shuttle model in the Langley wind tunnel.
Helping aeronautics transition from analog to digital, Langley has worked on aircraft controls, glass cockpits, computer-aided synthetic vision and a variety of safety-enhancing onboard sensors to better monitor conditions while airborne and on the ground.
Aerospace research engineer Kyle Ellis uses computer-aided synthetic vision technology in a flight deck simulator.
Fast, Faster, Fastest
Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.
Langley continues to study ways to make higher-speed air travel a reality, from about twice the speed of sound – supersonic – to multiple times: hypersonic.
Safer Space Sojourns
Protecting astronauts from harm is the aim of Langley’s work on the Orion Launch Abort System, while its work on materials and structures for lightweight and affordable space transportation and habitation will keep future space travelers safe.
Unmasking the Red Planet
Beginning with its leadership role in Project Viking, Langley has helped to unmask Martian mysteries with a to-date involvement in seven Mars missions, with participation in more likely to come.
First image of Mars taken by Viking 1 Lander.
Touchdown Without Terror
Langley’s continued work on advanced entry, descent and landing systems aims to make touchdowns on future planetary missions routinely safe and secure.
Artist concept of NASA’s Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator - an entry, descent and landing technology.
Helping to create environmentally benign aeronautical technologies has been a focus of Langley research, including concepts to reduce drag, weight, fuel consumption, emissions, and lessen noise.
With a history developing next-generation composite structures and components, Langley innovators continue to garner awards for a variety of aerospace inventions with a wide array of terrestrial applications.
Boron Nitride Nanotubes: High performance, multi-use nanotube material.
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