Today’s speaker was Dr. George Schmidt, Deputy Director of the Research and Technology Directorate at NASA Glenn since 2007, for an audience solely comprised of summer interns. This Directorate manages the means and goals of research at Glenn in order to fulfill NASA mission objectives. As Dr. Schmidt explained, the end of the space shuttle missions and the beginning of a push for deeper space exploration means that Glenn’s research foci will turn to laser and beamed energy propulsion, X-ray navigation and MINERvA detectors for neutrino interactions. At our research center there are five main divisions with the code “R” (for “research”) designation: Space Processes and Experiments (RE); Communications, Instrumentation and Controls (RH); Power and In-Space Propulsion (RP); Aeropropulsion (RT); and Structures and Materials (RX).
The chief of RP provided an overview of the division’s current and proposed research into electric and chemical propellants, including cryogenics, Hall thrusters and liquid oxygen. There they also work on fuel cells and photovoltaics for powering systems as far away from the sun as Mars. As for spacecraft that will travel beyond Mars, the division is investigating the next step in high-efficiency in-space propulsion: Stirling converters and engines.
The RT chief stressed the importance of reducing airplanes’ noise output, fuel usage and emissions while using both computational and experimental methods. The Icing Branch (within the Aeropropulsion Division) is looking into the effects of icing and the reduction of a sonic boom’s effects for ground observers.
The RX chief explained that division worked to provide high-performing and long-lasting materials that can withstand space’s extreme environments and provide thermal or radiation protection to astronauts and sensitive equipment. One such developing technology is aerogel films, which are designed to be a flexible source of thermal protection by extracting the maximum amount of heat from a given system.
Finally, the RE division chief discussed the current efforts in combustion research and capillary flow because they differ so much between zero-gravity and 1-g environments. Effective smoke detection and water mist fire suppression are two key research initiatives for this division.
In conclusion, the audience gained a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the fascinating myriad of research always underway at Glenn, and hopefully a project’s description piqued their interest in someday getting involved, too.