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NASA Langley Wraps Up Out-of-This-World Year

Thu, 12/27/2012 - 11:53am -- WCVE

NASA Langley had an extraordinary year. An employer of 3,600, the 800-acre campus in Hampton, Virginia is celebrating 95 years as the nation’s first civil aeronautics laboratory. Among the many highlights and achievments from over the past year, NASA Langley had a key role in the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover.

WCVE Public Radio’s Charles Fishburne has this Science Matters Report:

Read more about the achievments of 2012 in this NASA Langley release:
HAMPTON, Va. – Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center are celebrating a year of aerospace accomplishments that took their work not only into the skies, but also on to another planet. Here are some of the highlights.

The Curiosity Rover lands safely on Mars
More than 100 engineers, researchers and technicians here played a critical role in the successful August 6 landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover on the Red Planet. Langley was the agency lead for modeling and simulation of the spacecraft prior to launch. Millions of simulations were performed leading up to the entry, descent and landing phase -- the so-called, “Seven Minutes of Terror,” leading to touchdown. Another contribution was the MSL Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation (MEDLI), a science instrument package built primarily at Langley that gathered heat and temperature data during the last eight minutes of the flight. A Langley engineer also developed a mini-computer on the Curiosity rover that commands the ChemCam, a rock-blasting laser that vaporizes thin layers of material from Martian rocks or soil.

Inflatable Spacecraft Technology launches and successfully survives reentry
NASA is one step closer to developing an inflatable spacecraft heat shield that could survive the superheated hypersonic speeds of entry into a planetary atmosphere, following the successful July 23 launch of the Langley-led Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment 3 (IRVE-3). The giant cone of uninflated high-tech rings, covered by a thermal blanket, launched from a 22-inch diameter sounding rocket for its suborbital flight from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. Once it reached an altitude of 290 miles, an inflation system pumped up the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it expanded to almost 10 feet in diameter. The inflated mushroom-shaped vehicle then plummeted through Earth’s atmosphere at more than Mach 10, or about 7,000 miles an hour. Researchers are studying temperature and pressure data collected during the mission to help develop future inflatable heat shield designs and to confirm that inflatable spacecraft technology could some day become practical for exploration of other worlds or as a way to safely return items from the International Space Station to Earth.

Orion model splashes down, while SLS model gets tunnel tested
An 18,000-pound test article that mimics the size and weight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft crew module – the next generation capsule that will carry astronauts into space beyond low Earth orbit and return them safely home - completed a final series of water impact tests in Langley’s Hydro Impact Basin in September. The campaign of swing and vertical drop tests simulated various water landing scenarios to account for different velocities, parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights and wind conditions the spacecraft could encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean. The next round of water impact testing is scheduled to begin as soon as late 2013 using a full-sized model that was built to validate the flight vehicle’s production processes and tools. The Orion will go into space aboard a heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, also currently in development and testing. A 10-foot-long model of the SLS was put through buffet testing in NASA Langley’s Transonic Dynamics Tunnel this fall to capture data that will help determine the structural safety margins of the vehicle, especially during launch and ascent to orbit at transonic and low supersonic speeds up to Mach 1.2.

NASA Langley Earth science is working to increase Earth monitoring from space
Three NASA Langley Earth science projects moved forward in 2012. The Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument started scanning Earth from space for the first time in January. It is observing Earth atmospheric conditions from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. CERES continuously measures the amount of energy leaving the Earth-atmosphere system, allowing scientists to determine the planet’s energy balance. A NASA Langley team is moving forward with preparations for a planned 2014 launch of the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III) that will be mounted to the orbiting International Space Station. Components of SAGE III on ISS, which will measure aerosols, ozone, water vapor and other gases in Earth’s atmosphere, are currently undergoing testing here. The instrument is set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. And finally a team managed by NASA Langley has won a proposal to build the first space-based instrument that will monitor major air pollutants across the North American continent by taking hourly measurements during daytime hours. The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument that is to be completed in 2017 will share a ride on a commercial satellite to an orbit about 22,000 miles above Earth’s equator.

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