Researchers from several NASA centers had an opportunity to share information about revolutionary new technologies at the Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) Showcase held at Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, on October 22.
The CAS project, which funds NASA researchers for short-duration (2-3 years) activities, is part of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP). TACP provides an environment for researchers to experiment with new ideas, and to perform ground and small-scale flight tests that allow them to learn from failure but also to drive rapid turnover into potential future concepts that can transform commercial aviation and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Aeronautics research challenges identified by NASA include global demand for mobility, significant energy and sustainability changes, and ongoing air-travel affordability. The research topics presented at the showcase are designed to converge innovation in aeronautics and non-aeronautics industries in order to address these problems. NASA principal investigators are leading CAS sub-project teams from Armstrong (AFRC); Glenn Research Center (GRC), Cleveland, Ohio; Langley Research Center (LaRC), Hampton, Virginia; and Ames Research Center (ARC), Moffett Field, California.
The CAS sub-projects briefed at the showcase were:
- High Voltage Hybrid Electric Propulsion (led by GRC): Studies whether lightweight, efficient power distribution systems could replace petroleum fueled aircraft propulsion systems.
- Learn to Fly (led by LaRC): Explores whether aerodynamics modeling, adaptive controls, computers and sensors can shave years and dollars off designing, building, testing and certifying new aircraft.
- Multifunctional Structures for High Energy Lightweight Load-Bearing Storage (led by GRC): Evaluates whether it’s possible to use nanotechnology to create aircraft structures that can also store electrical power.
- Digital Twin (led by LaRC): Explores developing a computer model that can more accurately predict how a future aircraft will perform over time, possibly accelerating its certification while still assuring safety and reliability.
- Autonomy Operating System for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (led by ARC): Researches building a prototype open-standard platform that can verify and certify reusable software needed to develop smart UAV autonomy apps.
- Aeronautics Autonomy Testbed Capability (led by LaRC): Investigates new approaches for developing a UAS testbed capability that can address a variety of autonomy research questions.
- Mission Adaptive Digital Composite Aerostructure Technologies (led by ARC): Explores the idea of using emerging digital composite manufacturing methods to build an ultra-lightweight, adaptable wing.
- Design Environment for Novel Vertical Lift Vehicles (led by ARC): Demonstrates whether it’s possible to apply current conceptual design tools to small and novel vertical lift vehicle designs, and to improve these tools with new technologies for usability, operability, and community acceptance.
- X-Plane (led by AFRC): Develops a cost-effective approach to accomplishing flight research with large-scale experimental airplanes to test solutions to technical challenges associated with ultra-efficient, future aircraft designs.
- Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (led by LaRC and AFRC): Evaluates the impacts of using distributed electric propulsion through a rapid concept-to-flight demonstration of this alternate power source that enhances safety while also reducing costs, noise, and emissions.
During the CAS Showcase, TACP Deputy Director Richard Barhydt said the project was off to a great start. He asked attendees to think of ways to push boundaries and develop ideas to overcome barriers, and urged them to start with the hardest problems from a feasibility standpoint.
“We need to think about a multi-discipline, multi-center approach to solve challenging problems,” he said, “and be open to the potential that it might not meet [researchers] expectations and objectives.”
For each CAS sub-project, team members propose ideas for overcoming key barriers associated with large-scale aeronautics problems. Teams then conduct feasibility studies, perform experiments, try out new ideas, identify failures, and try again. At the end of that cycle, a review determines whether the developed solutions have met their goals, established initial feasibility, and identified real-world potential. The most promising capabilities are then considered for further development by other NASA aeronautics programs or by direct transfer to the aviation community.