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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment 3 Workforce and Facilities This chapter addresses the adequacy of NASA and national workforce and facilities, particularly with regard to achieving the goals of the NASA aeronautics research program and meeting the research and technology (R&T) challenges described in Chapter 2. AERONAUTICS WORKFORCE ISSUES National Aeronautics Workforce National employment data give a mixed picture of aerospace engineering employment and trends—with no consistent trends in terms of employment numbers or salaries. From 1996 to 2004, aerospace engineering employment increased 43 percent, and this was well above the trend for total engineering employment, which increased only 5 percent over the same time period (see Table 3-1a). However, aerospace engineering employment decreased from 2002 to 2005 (see Tables 3-1b and 3-2a) before rebounding again in 2006 (see Table 3-2b).1 Aerospace engineering salaries were almost flat from 2004 to 2005, as employment fell by 16 percent (Table 3-2a), but then increased by 11 percent from 2005 to 2006, as employment grew by 10 percent (Table 3-2b). In addition, in 2006, median salaries for aerospace engineers were higher than for any other professional occupation tracked by annual reports of median wages prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), except for lawyers, judges, physicians and surgeons, and pharmacists (BLS, 2007). In 2006, based on detailed employment data from 2004, the BLS concluded the following regarding the future of aerospace engineering employment: “Aerospace engineers are expected to have slower-than- 1 All the data in Tables 3-1 and 3-2 are taken from documents produced by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (Sources are listed below each table.) The data for Table 3-1 are taken from different annual editions of the same document, and the data for Table 3-2 are taken from different annual editions of a different document. Thus, the data within each table are internally consistent, but there are some inconsistencies between the data in Table 3-1 (covering 1996 to 2004) and the data in Table 3-2 (covering 2004 to 2006). Therefore, data from the different tables should not be combined to derive overall trends from 1996 to 2006.
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment TABLE 3-1a Changes in Engineering Employment Between 1996 and 2004 TABLE 3-1b Changes in Engineering Employment Between 2002 and 2004
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment TABLE 3-2a Changes in Annual Average of Employment Numbers and Weekly Earnings Between 2004 and 2005 TABLE 3-2b Changes in Annual Average of Employment Numbers and Weekly Earnings Between 2005 and 2006
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment average growth in employment over the projection period. Although increases in the number and scope of military aerospace projects likely will generate new jobs, increased efficiency will limit the number of new jobs in the design and production of commercial aircraft. Even with slow growth, the employment outlook for aerospace engineers through 2014 appears favorable: the number of degrees granted in aerospace engineering declined for many years because of a perceived lack of opportunities in this field, and, although this trend is reversing, new graduates continue to be needed to replace aerospace engineers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons” (BLS, 2006, p. 11). In other words, the national aerospace industry will have an ongoing demand for new engineers that will probably be able to absorb all the new aerospace engineering graduates that U.S. universities produce, even as outsourcing by U.S. industry to foreign locations continues. However, much of the demand for new staff by U.S. industry will result from the retirement of existing workers, and the size of the aerospace workforce is not expected to grow very much. This cautious prediction seems consistent with mixed signals coming out of historical employment data for aerospace engineering and the uncertain cause of the sometimes large swings in employment that the data report. The situation specifically with regard to aeronautics and aeronautical engineers is even more uncertain, given that all of the data presented above and in the tables are for aerospace engineering as a whole, with no breakdown among various applications such as civil aeronautics, military aeronautics, and satellite and space applications. NASA Aeronautics Workforce Several recent reports have been issued which address the NASA workforce issue, with particular emphasis on the President’s Vision for Space Exploration (White House, 2004), but none has explicitly addressed the NASA aeronautics program and its requirements. These reports include NASA: Human Capital Flexibilities for the 21st Century Workforce, issued by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA, 2005); Building a Better NASA Workforce: Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration, issued by the National Research Council (NRC, 2007); and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Workforce Strategy, issued by NASA (2006b). These reports discuss in detail many key workforce issues, such as workforce demographics; trends in university enrollment and degrees awarded; the types of data necessary to support the creation of viable workforce strategies; NASA workforce competency requirements; recruitment, retention, training, and retraining of NASA workers; and the role of academia. They also contain the following recommendations: Recommendations to NASA from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA, 2005): Integrate NASA’s Leadership Development Program evaluation and benchmarking activities. Accelerate benchmarking with exemplary private sector organizations and leading university-based development programs. Respond effectively to Section 201 of the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act 2004 (Public Law No. 108-411).2 Recommendations to NASA from the National Research Council (NRC, 2007): Collect detailed data on NASA workforce requirements. Hire and retain younger workers within NASA. 2 Section 201 directs federal agencies to regularly evaluate and modify training programs and plans to promote a strategic approach to the integration of training programs into overall agency missions.
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment Ensure a coordinated national strategy for aerospace workforce development among relevant institutions. Provide hands-on training opportunities for NASA workers. Support university programs and provide hands-on opportunities at the college level. Support involvement in suborbital programs and nontraditional approaches in developing skills. Recommendations from NASA (2006b): Build and maintain 10 strong healthy centers. Integrate and emphasize retraining of the current workforce. Fully develop and maintain a structural workforce training process. Use term and temporary hiring authorities. Maintain a high-quality workplace. Apply recruitment flexibilities. Offer financial incentives. Manage surplus employees. Institute hiring controls. Foster knowledge management. The above recommendations present a long-range strategic approach to NASA’s workforce issues as a whole, with considerable emphasis on space exploration. Even so, these recommendations also seem to be generally applicable to the aeronautics workforce, and most of the recommendations could be implemented, at least in part, within the existing budget for NASA and its Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). However, nationally and at NASA, the issues faced by the aeronautics workforce differ in some key respects from the issues faced by the aerospace workforce as a whole. For example, a workforce plan that excludes the possibility of consolidating and reducing the number of centers is probably best justified not in terms of workforce efficiency and effectiveness, but in terms of the political reality that Congress seems highly unlikely to approve such a reduction. The principal investigators (PIs) for each of the 10 ARMD research projects were individually interviewed by the committee and asked to respond to the following questions: Do you foresee, in your area of responsibility, any lack of skills, etc., necessary to perform the research called out in your project plan? What are your staffing/research workforce plans for the future in order to effectively perform the research called out in your project plan? Is there any specific ARMD workforce-related strategy/implementation plan in place and operational? What are the specific impacts/constraints, etc., if any, emanating from the Office of Management and Budget, NASA Headquarters, and/or NASA Center Directors regarding staffing? Not all PIs responded to all of the preceding questions, particularly the second one. Also, the answers varied somewhat among specific PIs and projects. However, in general the responses were similar enough that general trends and findings could be established. Workforce issues are being addressed project by project. Each PI manages assigned resources as best fits the requirements of his or her project plan. Authorized staffing profiles are negotiated between the NASA Headquarters program managers and the center-resident PIs. In addition, the center directors
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment have final approval over the hiring of any permanent civil service employees at their centers. A better approach would be for ARMD to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses the needs of all 10 ARMD projects in the context of external constraints such as the involvement of center directors in staffing decisions. The Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics (NRC, 2006) reported that ARMD had plans to allocate only 7 percent of its budget for research by outside organizations. The Decadal Survey recommended that NASA ensure the substantive involvement of universities and industry in civil aeronautics research, in part by establishing a more balanced allocation of funding between in-house and external organizations. ARMD has subsequently increased the percentage of research funds assigned to contracts and grants to academia and industry by way of NASA Research Announcements (NRAs) as opposed to in-house research by NASA civil servants. This percentage varies among the projects from 10 percent to more than 40 percent. As the percentage of NRA funds increases, NASA is able to leverage the expertise and capabilities of outside organizations, and NASA personnel may have the freedom to focus more on integration and application of foundational technologies to higher-level systemic issues. However, it is not clear that this will happen. As external research increases, the civil servant workforce will need to dedicate more time to monitor the performance of the NRA contractor versus doing significant research on their own. At least one PI noted that he had to restructure his project organization to accommodate the demand for experienced contract monitors. In essence, the valuable infusion of new technology and innovative research approaches provided by the use of NRAs should be balanced by the retention of sufficient numbers of experienced NASA civil servants to provide for an optimum mix of research personnel resources, in accordance with a strategic workforce plan for NASA aeronautics research. Most PIs felt that, at least in the short term (2 to 5 years) they had adequate personnel resources available to perform the required research. However, they universally noted that, as the research shifts from civil servants to university- or industry-based NRA contracts, less of the work is done by long-term subject-matter experts and more of the work is being done by bright young graduate students. When a second or third round of NRA contracts is being let, there is no assurance that the competitively selected NRA contractor will use the same personnel as on earlier related NRAs. However, PIs commented that in many skill areas NASA’s permanent staff “is one deep,” and that the loss of a single individual due to normal job attrition or retirement results in a loss of continuity. There are many potential approaches for dealing with this issue. For example, assuming that the size of the civil servant NASA workforce is fixed, NASA could increase staffing in some areas, at the expense of losing expertise entirely in some other areas. Or, NASA could in some situations resolve to live with the current situation, using NRAs as necessary to fill small gaps in expertise as they arise, at least on a temporary basis. (In some cases, NRA researchers have accepted subsequent employment offers as NASA civil servants in their area of specialty when staffing plans permit, with the NRAs thus serving as a valuable and effective workforce recruiting tool.) Regardless, ARMD should develop a strategy for dealing with this critical issue. Due to constraints on hiring new NASA civil servants, the NASA workforce strategy of mentoring younger engineers and scientists is not being universally implemented due to the lack of young NASA personnel available to be mentored. It is particularly difficult to recruit new staff at Ames Research Center because the extremely high cost of housing and other living expenses in the area deter young engineers and scientists from moving into the area. In 2006, only seven new civil servants were hired at Ames Research Center—not all of them necessarily researchers. Yet hiring new staff is essential, especially in areas such as Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM), where NASA wants to develop databases and data mining techniques. These skill sets are highly desirable by companies such as Google, which is located very close to Ames Research Center. Because of constraints on hiring and salaries and because
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment of the local competition for key talent, recruiting and developing leaders at NASA Ames in this new area of research might prove challenging. Another result of constraints imposed by agency personnel rules and practices is the policy of restricting the transfer of staff positions from one NASA center to another. NASA’s aeronautics research is performed almost entirely at four research centers (Ames Research Center, Dryden Flight Research Center, Glenn Research Center, and Langley Research Center). During 2006, the total number of civil servant employees at these four research centers dropped by about 6 percent, while the number of civil servants at the rest of NASA dropped by just 1 percent. Furthermore, from 2004 to 2006, for every five employees who left these four centers, only one new employee was hired, and the total civil servant workforce at these centers fell by 16 percent. Meanwhile, in the rest of NASA, for every five civil servant employees who left, three new employees were hired, and the number of employees declined by just 2 percent. Expressed another way, from 2004 to 2006, NASA’s four research centers, with less than one-third of NASA’s total civil service workforce, absorbed almost 80 percent of NASA’s reduction in civil service employees (BPTW, 2007). This is consistent with NASA’s own longer-range plans. According to NASA’s Workforce Strategy, from fiscal year (FY) 2005 to FY 2011, the civil servant workforce at NASA’s four research centers will be reduced by 19 percent, while the workforce at the rest of NASA is reduced by 5 percent (NASA, 2006b). The Workforce Strategy notes that “changes in workyear requirements through fiscal year 2010 are primarily driven by continuing redeployment of the workforce, especially to effect the restructuring of the aeronautics program and the development and testing of the Space Shuttle follow-on systems.” The committee did not have employment data broken down by job category (administrative, technical, etc.), nor did it have data on the size of NASA’s total aeronautics research workforce, which includes contractor and academic staff funded by NASA to conduct aeronautics research. Nevertheless, the civil servant staffing trends noted above are both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, lower civil servant staffing may make it more difficult for NASA to conduct meaningful in-house research and interact in a meaningful way with outside researchers. Low hiring rates, even in the face of normal attrition, also make it more difficult to hire significant numbers of younger researchers. On the other hand, lower civil servant staffing (and reduced staffing costs) may free up resources to involve more outside researchers in contributing to the accomplishment of ARMD research goals. Conclusions A recent National Research Council report, Building a Better NASA Workforce (NRC, 2007), shows that much of the aerospace workforce on which NASA’s space program has historically relied and will continue to rely exists outside the agency in industry or universities. In addition, even though the average age of NASA’s workforce has steadily increased over the past 15 years or so (to the point where perhaps 25 percent of NASA’s workforce could retire in the next 5 years), this problem is not unique to NASA. In fact, the federal government as a whole is much more susceptible than NASA is to a mass exodus of employees as a large percentage of its aging workforce becomes eligible to retire. Building a Better NASA Workforce also concludes that “the general focus on the age of the NASA workforce and a looming ‘retirement crisis’ tends to obscure more complex and subtle demographic issues. Although a massive and simultaneous wave of retirements among eligible employees would be a devastating blow to the agency, it is likely that NASA will continue to retain employees beyond retirement age and to engage the retiree community as consultants and mentors, as it has done in the past” and “the most relevant issue facing NASA’s workforce is not its age, but rather the number and distribution of skilled
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment employees within the agency and the ability of the agency to ensure that it has, and will continue to have, an adequate supply of trained employees” (NRC, 2007, p. 10). Specifically with regard to aeronautics, this committee found that there exists, among NASA, the academic community, and the civilian aerospace industry, enough skilled research personnel to adequately support the current aeronautics research programs at NASA and nationally, at least for the next decade or so. NASA may experience localized problems at some centers. For example, Ames Research Center may have difficulty hiring civil servants to do some work in-house. However, the requisite intellectual capacity exists at other centers and/or in organizations outside NASA. Thus, NASA should be able to achieve its research goals, for example, by using NRAs or other procurement mechanisms; through the use of higher, locally competitive salaries in selected disciplines at some centers; and/or by creating a virtual workforce that integrates staff from multiple centers with the skills necessary to address a particular research task. The content of the NASA aeronautics program, which has a large portfolio of tool development but little or no opportunities for flight tests, may in some cases hamper the ability of the aeronautics program to recruit new staff as compared with the space exploration program. In addition, there will likely be increased requirements for specialized or new skill sets, such as IVHM (as discussed above) and system engineering expertise (to facilitate management of a growing portfolio of research performed by external organizations). Workforce problems and inefficiencies can also arise from fluctuations in national aerospace engineering employment and from uneven funding in particular areas of endeavor. If expertise is developed when the aerospace industry is growing and/or funding for a particular program is available, and if that expertise is lost when the industry contracts, when programs and contracts end, or when budgets shift focus, then research teams disburse into other endeavors, sometimes in other industries. As an extreme example, NASA has recently discovered that the ability to fabricate ablative material for the heat shields of Apollo command modules returning from lunar orbit has been lost. In fact, heat shield test articles fabricated according to available records from the Apollo program failed almost immediately during testing, presumably because the records do not document some vital aspect of the fabrication process. NASA’s ability to attain its aeronautics research goals will be greatly facilitated by the expertise of the staff who are leading and conducting ARMD’s aeronautics research projects—and who are dedicated to the success of these projects. Recommendation. To ensure that the NASA aeronautics program has and will continue to have an adequate supply of trained employees, the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate should develop a vision describing the role of its research staff as well as a comprehensive, centralized strategic plan for workforce integration and implementation specific to ARMD. The plan should be based on an ARMD-wide survey of staffing requirements by skill level, coupled with an availability analysis of NASA civil servants available to support the NASA aeronautics program. The plan should identify specific gaps and the time frame in which they should be addressed. It should also define the role of NASA civil servant researchers vis-à-vis external researchers in terms of the following: Defining, achieving, and maintaining an appropriate balance between in-house research and external research (by academia and industry) in each project and task, recognizing that the appropriate balance will not be the same in all areas. Maintaining core competencies in areas consistent with (1) the highest-priority R&T challenges from the Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics and (2) NASA’s role in the National Aeronautics
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment Research and Development Policy and the National Plan for Aeronautics Research and Development and Related Infrastructure. Supporting the continuing education, training, and retention of necessary expertise in the NASA civil servant workforce and, as appropriate, determining how to encourage and support the education of the future aeronautics workforce in general. Developing, integrating, and applying foundational technology to meet NASA’s internal requirements for aeronautics research. Defining and addressing issues related to research involving multidisciplinary capabilities and system design (i.e., research at Levels 3 and 4, respectively, as defined by ARMD). Ensuring that research projects continue to make progress when NASA works with outside organizations to obtain some of the requisite expertise (when that expertise is not resident in NASA’s civil servant workforce). NASA should use the National Research Council report Building a Better NASA Workforce (NRC, 2007) as a starting point in developing a comprehensive ARMD workforce plan. AERONAUTICS FACILITY ISSUES Aeronautics Test Program Facilities ARMD’s Aeronautics Test Program (ATP) is responsible for providing corporate management of NASA’s major aeronautical facilities. This includes increasing the probability of having the right facilities in place at the right time over the long term, operating facilities in the most effective and efficient manner possible, and ensuring intelligent investment in and divestment of NASA facilities. The ATP supports operations (facility sustainment and rate stabilization), maintenance, investments in test technology, and university-related research. ATP facilities are located at Ames Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center, and Dryden Flight Research Center. To be included in the ATP, facilities must meet a size criterion and provide unique capabilities. ATP ground test facilities include the following: Ames Unitary Wind Tunnel Glenn Icing Research Tunnel Glenn 9- × 15-Foot Subsonic Tunnel Langley National Transonic Facility Langley Transonic Dynamics Tunnel Langley Hypersonic Complex Langley 8-Foot High Temperature Tunnel Langley 14- × 22-Foot Subsonic Tunnel Langley 20-Foot Vertical Spin Tunnel Glenn Propulsion Systems Laboratory 3 and 4 Glenn 10- × 10-Foot Supersonic Tunnel ATP flight research facilities include the following: Western Aeronautical Test Range Support Aircraft Test Bed Aircraft Simulation and Flight Loads Laboratory
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment The ATP continually assesses the need for its facilities and, as appropriate, reduces the number of active facilities, in part to eliminate duplicate facilities. The ATP currently has two mothballed facilities: the Glenn Hypersonic Test Facility and the Ames 12-Foot Subsonic Pressure Tunnel. The Langley Low Turbulence Pressure Tunnel is being considered for deactivation. Six facilities are scheduled for demolition: the Ames 14-Foot Transonic Facility, the Langley 7- × 10-Foot High Speed Tunnel, the Langley 16-Foot Transonic Tunnel, Langley’s two 8-Foot Transonic Tunnels, and the Langley 30- × 60-Foot Full Scale Tunnel. Although mothballing and demolishing facilities may seem drastic, NASA has carefully considered how such actions would affect current and future aeronautics research, and the process seems to be working well. Over the past several years, the ATP annual budget has been approximately $175 million. About $87 million has been recovered from users who reimburse NASA for direct costs associated with their tests. About 68 percent of this amount has come from NASA users (of which 60 percent has come from the Fundamental Aeronautics Program). The rest of ATP’s annual budget (about $88 million) has come from NASA’s congressionally appropriated funds through the ATP. These funds have been allocated as follows: $31 million for flight operations and test infrastructure and $57 million for aeronautics ground test facilities ($39 million for operations and $18 million for maintenance and test technology, including university-related research). In addition, Center Management and Operations funds have provided approximately $14 million per year of reactive and preventive maintenance for ATP facilities. In other words, the total budget for the maintenance and improvement of ATP ground facilities has been approximately $32 million per year ($18 million from the ATP budget and $14 million from the centers’ budgets). The ATP staff consists of a small program office, lead personnel at each NASA center with ATP facilities, and remaining staff to accomplish the testing, maintenance, and investments funded by the program. The ATP collaborates closely with the Department of Defense (DoD) though the recently signed National Partnership for Aeronautical Testing (NPAT). The NPAT is intended to increase communications between DoD, NASA, and industry in the area of aeronautical test facilities. It encourages NASA and DoD to address the nation’s aeronautical test needs with less duplication by relying on each other for certain capabilities. Shared Capability Assets Program Facilities The Shared Capabilities Assets Program (SCAP) within the NASA Headquarters Infrastructure Office identifies, prioritizes, and supports key facilities that NASA deems essential to the future needs of NASA and/or the nation. In some cases NASA provides funding to maintain critical capabilities that are underutilized at present so they will still be available when they are needed. The SCAP has in its portfolio the kinds of facilities listed below. As shown, some are managed by SCAP, and some are managed by NASA’s mission directorates.3 Aeronautics Test Program (managed by ARMD) Arc jet test facilities (managed by SCAP) Flight simulation facilities (managed by SCAP) High-End Computing Capability (managed by the Science Mission Directorate) 3 In general, facilities managed by individual directorates primarily support those directorates, whereas facilities managed by SCAP are not as closely linked to any one directorate.
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment Rocket Propulsion Test Program (managed by the Space Operations Mission Directorate) Thermal-vacuum-acoustic test facilities (managed by SCAP) All but the last two support aeronautics research and development. The ATP facilities budget is described in detail above. The approximate SCAP budget for the other capabilities that support aeronautics is as follows: Arc jet: $14 million per year ($9 million for operations support and maintenance and $5 million from customer reimbursement for the marginal costs of testing). Flight simulation: $15 million per year ($11 million is for operations support and maintenance and $4 million from customer reimbursements). High-end computing: $39 million per year ($23 million for operations support, $6 million for maintenance, and $10 million for capital improvements). All customers currently pay the same rates for using the three SCAP-managed facilities, but this policy is under review. Other Laboratory Facilities ARMD’s aeronautics research also uses other small research laboratories located at various centers. These laboratories are sustained and maintained by the individual centers (using center Management and Operations funds), or they are directly funded by the ARMD program requiring their use. Examples include combustor research facilities, fuel research facilities, and crash facilities. In addition, the projects within the Fundamental Aeronautics Program invest in research to provide new and/or improved test techniques and instrumentation, as necessary. Requirements for NASA Research Facilities NASA Aeronautics Program NASA’s aeronautics research uses a wide variety of facilities. For example, ARMD’s Airspace Systems Project uses SCAP-funded facilities such as the Crew Vehicle Systems Research Facility, the Cockpit Motion Facility, and the Future Flight Central (Tower Cab). Both the Airspace and the Airportal Projects use the North Texas Research Station, which is supported by NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). (This is a small facility that supports field testing of automated air traffic management tools.) The Integrated Resilient Aircraft Control Project uses flight simulation facilities, full-scale flight vehicles, and subscale flight vehicles (such as the scale model transport testbed). The Subsonic Rotary Wing Project utilizes the Langley 14- × 22-Foot Tunnel and the Langley Transonic Dynamics tunnel. The Supersonics Project utilizes the Glenn 10- × 10-Foot Tunnel, the Glenn 1- × 1-Foot Tunnel, the Langley Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, and the Ames Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel. The Hypersonics Project uses the Langley hypersonic facilities.
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment NASA Space Programs The NASA Science Mission Directorate is developing the Mars Science Laboratory. This effort includes two options for addressing issues associated with vehicle entry, descent, and landing. One option, which would use aerodynamic drag deceleration, requires arc-jet facilities to test candidate heat shields. The second option, which would use supersonic parachutes, requires access to NASA’s large supersonic wind tunnels. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is working on the Project Constellation, which includes robotic and human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Constellation’s reentry vehicle, Orion, will have more mass than previous reentry vehicles and will therefore require the development of advanced entry, descent, and landing systems. Project Constellation will be responsible for funding necessary improvements to existing arc-jet facilities in order to support this development. Supersonic parachutes are also being considered for Orion and will need supersonic wind tunnel support. Project Constellation will also use ATP wind tunnels to support development of the Ares launch vehicle, particularly with regard to launch vehicle stability and control, buffet response and loads, structures, stage separation, heating, and the performance of the launch abort vehicle. The Space Operations Mission Directorate utilizes NASA’s aeronautics facilities to support the space shuttle operations. Accident Investigation Boards use facilities to better understand failure mechanisms, and program staff use facilities to test fixes and modifications during the process of returning to flight. DoD Programs The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 requested that DoD identify and analyze NASA aeronautics facilities that are critical to defense missions. In response, DoD identified 11 NASA aeronautics facilities whose continued availability is necessary to avoid an unacceptable risk to research, development, modernization, and sustainment of the weapon systems supporting the defense mission (DoD, 2007). These facilities are as follows: Glenn Research Center 6- × 9-Foot Icing Research Tunnel Langley Research Center 20-Foot Vertical Spin Tunnel Ames Research Center Unitary 11-Foot Transonic Tunnel Langley Research Center National Transonic Facility Langley Research Center Transonic Dynamics Tunnel Langley Research Center 8-Foot High Temperature Tunnel Ames Research Center Vertical Motion Simulator Glenn Research Center Mechanical Drives Facility Glenn Research Center Turbine and Structural Seals Facilities Langley Research Center Impact Dynamics Research Facility Wallops Flight Facility Open Air Range Some of these facilities are critical to DoD because they have unique capabilities. Others are critical because the workload is so high that other, comparable facilities cannot meet the combined workload of DoD, NASA, and the U.S. aerospace industry. And some of the above facilities are critical because other comparable facilities may experience a lengthy period of unplanned or planned downtime (due to
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment failure, natural catastrophe, or modification), and a second facility is necessary because the consequences of deferring relevant research and testing are unacceptable. The DoD study identified the following specific requirements for ATP facilities: The Icing Research Tunnel at Glenn is a core facility that is critical to manned and unmanned aircraft and pilot survivability in severe icing conditions for all flight profiles. All of the military services have a potential need for this facility to provide long-range support during system development, conduct credible large-scale examinations of icing phenomenology and ice protection systems, and generate tools needed for ice protection systems in future aircraft designs. The Vertical Spin Tunnel at Langley is the largest spin tunnel in the world, it is the only free-spin tunnel in the United States, and it is essential to determining certain aerodynamic characteristics of the highly maneuverable aircraft that are developed and modified by the DoD. The transonic regime is both complex and critical to weapon systems development. Due to the high workload in this test regime, the DoD needs to maintain access to more than one large-scale transonic wind tunnel. The combination of test article size, Mach number, and altitude range of the Unitary 11-Foot Transonic Wind Tunnel at Ames makes it critical to DoD transonic testing requirements for aerodynamic simulation, especially for long-range aircraft systems. The National Transonic Facility at Langley is vital to determining scaling effects for transport aircraft, bombers, and other long-range vehicles. To assure that modeling and simulation tools can accurately extrapolate Reynolds number effects far enough to accurately predict flight characteristics, modeling and simulation tools must be calibrated using physical testing under high Reynolds numbers. This testing is the primary purpose of the National Transonic Facility. The Transonic Dynamics Tunnel is essential for DoD testing for both flutter clearance and structural aeroelasticity. This facility is necessary to support future heavy-lift rotorcraft designs. The High Temperature Tunnel at Langley provides DoD with hypersonic aerothermal and air-breathing propulsion environments for Mach 4 to 7 systems while the DoD’s Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit facility is being upgraded. In addition, due to the high workload in this test regime, the DoD needs to maintain access to more than one hypersonic aerothermal and aerodynamic test environment. FAA Programs The Federal Aviation Administration has used several NASA facilities to support past research, and this need will continue, especially with regard to NextGen research. Future Flight Central, a SCAP-managed facility at Ames, is a national air traffic control/air traffic management test facility dedicated to solving present and future capacity problems at U.S. airports. This facility has established a precedent for enabling stakeholders to achieve consensus through a common vision of the future. The Crew-Vehicle Systems Research Facility is another SCAP-managed facility at Ames. This unique facility supports research by NASA, the FAA, and industry. This facility provides an environment where researchers can study how and why aviation errors occur, and it stands out in the area of human factors research. In this facility, researchers use highly sophisticated flight and air traffic control simulators to study the effects of automation and advanced instrumentation on human performance. The Air Traffic Operations Laboratory at Langley is a center-managed facility that concentrates more on the air traffic control issues than the Crew-Vehicle Systems Research Facility. This facility includes
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment controller displays that depict data generated by either traffic generator software or by integrating flight simulators from Langley or other facilities around the country. The FAA has also made use of other facilities, such as the Cockpit Motion Facility and the Vertical Motion Simulator (which are managed by SCAP) and the Landing Loads and Crash facility (which is managed as a center laboratory). None of the above facilities needs to be upgraded to meet the FAA’s current research requirements. The ability of these facilities to support future requirements is uncertain, given that the FAA research requirements related to NextGen are still evolving. Industry Programs The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) U.S. Industry Aeronautics Test Facilities Working Group provides a forum for development of strategic recommendations on aeronautical wind tunnels required to support current and future aeronautics research and development. Recently the working group developed a position statement addressing infrastructure recommendations for implementation of a national aeronautics research and development policy (AIAA, 2007). This paper addresses total aeronautical testing needs for industry, and it includes some requirements for NASA facilities. The working group evaluated historical wind tunnel test usage trends and estimated industry needs over the next 5 years. Due to the highly cyclical nature of wind tunnel testing (large peaks and valleys in test requirements), the working group used an average industry usage over the past 5 years to produce a baseline. The working group concluded that “wind tunnel testing needs will continue at rates slightly above the five-year annualized baseline. Historical peaks and valleys, resulting from individual program plans, will continue to impact actual requirements and schedules. The five-year forecast indicates that subsonic and transonic testing will remain constant or possibly increase slightly; there will likely be increased emphasis on supersonic and hypersonic testing” (AIAA, 2007). The working group also evaluated longer-term trends to develop a vision of the future for wind tunnel testing and concluded that “wind tunnel testing is anticipated to continue to provide a large percentage of development and validation data needed in the pursuit of new technologies and systems of aeronautic vehicles. Aeronautic development requires productive and capable tools, so wind tunnels and computational methods will continue to provide the bulk of required data in the future. Aeronautic vehicle development will continue to push the boundaries of our knowledge, increasing the need for tools that can accurately (and efficiently) predict aeronautic effects.” The working group identified five strategic investment areas in wind tunnel test capabilities that are required to enable continued progress in aeronautics: Development of a knowledgeable test workforce is critical for the national infrastructure. It is anticipated that the industry-wide trend of losing expertise will particularly impact the test community. Investment, in the form of stable research and development programs (federally funded) which use the test infrastructure, will significantly enhance the ability of the operators to seek and retain new staff prior to the retirement of the current aging workforce. Stable facility funding profiles (e.g. overheads, maintenance, and test technology development), will also aid in developing and retaining knowledgeable staffs. Improved test technology is crucial to enabling future system development. Huge advances in the ability to mine flow field and other data from wind tunnel tests are possible (through the advance in computational capabilities and integration, instrumentation and non-intrusive flow field measurement techniques) with strategic and coordinated investment. Stable funding of test technique/technology research would also support the development of the test workforce, as described in item 1 above. Maintenance and improvement of key test assets is a vital component of enabling future test capabilities. Key facilities include those that provide unique, or nearly unique, capabilities and may or may not have
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment full utilization. Atrophy and decline in a robust Federal aerodynamic test infrastructure in the last twenty years has been significant; only recent emphasis by the DOD and NASA has slowed the decline in our aging infrastructure. Divestment of redundant and non-essential test infrastructure is required to focus limited resources on critical capabilities and new infrastructure requirements. New high-speed test infrastructure is required to meet anticipated requirements for future systems. Increased need for simulation of hypersonic realm will likely require additional test capabilities not currently available. (AIAA, 2007, p. 9) NASA Research Facility Gaps Principal investigators for ARMD’s 10 research projects did not identify any serious capability gaps in the NASA research facilities needed to support their research, except for one concern with NASA’s quiet supersonic tunnel capability. A quiet supersonic wind tunnel with maximum operating conditions of about Mach 1.5 to 2.5 is needed to validate designs as flows transition between turbulent and laminar boundary layers. NASA’s Exploration Systems, Space Operations, and Science Mission Directorates identified no unmet facility needs other than improved arc-jet facilities. The DoD and FAA reported that the current NASA capabilities are doing an excellent job of meeting relevant testing requirements. Industry forecasts continued reliance on NASA aeronautical facilities to meet future research requirements, and it predicts that new high-speed infrastructure will be required to meet future requirements. However, the question that all facility users are asking is whether NASA is investing in and maintaining its facilities at a level that will ensure that the current status will be continued into the future. The analysis below indicates that it is not. In FY 2006 NASA performed its fifth facilities condition assessment and deferred maintenance study (NASA, 2006a). This assessment determined that the NASA-wide facility condition index, which is rated on a scale from 5 (excellent) to 1 (bad), had decreased slightly from 3.7 in FY 2005 to 3.6 in FY 2006. This means that NASA’s facilities remain in fair condition, meaning they are “occasionally unable to function as intended.” Center staff has been able to maintain this condition with consistent maintenance and increased use of technology for tracking maintenance and repairs. However, NASA’s stated goal is to increase the facility condition index to 4.3. As described below, this is unlikely to happen with the current level of maintenance funding. In particular, ATP facilities are likely to degrade over time unless the inventory of ATP facilities is substantially reduced or funding for facilities is increased. In 1989 the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) assessed the adequacy of DoD expenditures to replenish the capital stock at the 22 principal test and evaluation (T&E) sites that constitute the DoD’s Major Range and Test Facility Base (IDA, 1989). The capital stock of interest included buildings, towers, test stands, range instrumentation, data processing equipment, and other structures and major equipment. The capital stock at the sites examined by this study would be very similar to NASA’s current ATP facilities. The study compared the rate of capital renewal at the 22 DoD T&E sites with the rate at major industries, nine principal aerospace firms, and nonmilitary federal departments and agencies. The capital renewal period was obtained by dividing the value of capital stock by the level of annual investment in existing and new facilities. The renewal period indicates how long it would take to completely replace the capital stock at current levels of investment. The longer the renewal period, the older the stock of buildings and equipment would become in the future. The IDA report found that the DoD T&E sites had a renewal period of 64 years, which was much longer than the capital renewal periods for non-DoD federal departments and agencies (22 years), aerospace firms (18 years), and major industry as a whole (14 years).
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment The IDA (1989) report caused the DoD to make significant changes to reduce the renewal period of its T&E sites. In the mid-1990s the DoD established the Central Test and Evaluation Investment Program, funded at $140 million per year to reduce the renewal period. Later, the Fiscal Year 2003 National Defense Authorization Act directed the DoD and the military services to fully fund the institutional and overhead costs (including maintenance) of its T&E sites and only charge users the direct costs associated with their tests. Also in 2003, the U.S. Air Force increased the maintenance budget at the Arnold Engineering Development Center by $15 million per year to help reduce the backlog of maintenance and repair projects at the center. These efforts have substantially reduced the renewal period for major DoD T&E facilities. The NASA Real Property Database indicates that the capital stock value of ATP ground test facilities as of 2005 is $1.9 billion, based on the original construction cost, adjusted for inflation. This may understate the true cost of replacing these assets, in part because substantial improvements have been made over the years using civil servant labor, the cost of which is not reflected in the NASA Real Property Database. Therefore, $1.9 billion is a conservative estimate of value of ATP facilities. Dividing that number by the annual maintenance and investment budget for ATP facilities ($32 million), produces a renewal period of 59 years. This indicates that NASA’s situation today is similar to DoD’s situation in 1989, and NASA and Congress may need to take similar corrective action to prevent the status of “occasionally unable to function as intended” from declining to “often being unable to function.” Such an outcome would impede important research by NASA, DoD, FAA, and industry. Conclusions NASA has a unique set of aeronautics research facilities that provide key support to NASA, other federal agencies, and industry. With very few exceptions, these facilities meet the relevant needs of existing aeronautics research. NASA also has a dedicated effort to sustain large, key facilities and to shut down low-priority facilities. However, some small facilities (particularly in the supersonic regime) are just as important and may warrant more support than they currently receive. In addition, at the current investment rate, widespread facility degradation will inevitably impact the ability of ARMD projects and other important national aeronautics research and development to achieve their goals. Recommendation. Absent a substantial increase in facility maintenance and investment funds, NASA should reduce the impact of facility shortcomings by continuing to assess facilities and mothball or decommission facilities of lesser importance so that the most important facilities can be properly sustained. REFERENCES AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). 2007. Infrastructure Recommendations for Implementation of Executive Order 13419, National Aeronautics Research and Development: An AIAA Position Statement. Reston, Va.: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Available online at <http://pdf.aiaa.org/downloads/publicpolicypositionpapers//windtunnelinfrastucpaperbodapproved011108.pdf>. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 2006. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Engineers. Washington, D.C. BLS. 2007. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by detailed occupation and sex, 2006. Available online at <www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat39.pdf>. BPTW (Best Places to Work). 2007. Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation (ISPPI). Available online at <http://bestplacestowork.org>.
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NASA Aeronautics Research—An Assessment DoD (Department of Defense). 2007. NASA Aeronautics Facilities Critical to DoD Report to Congress. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense. Available online at <www.acq.osd.mil/trmc/publications/NASA%20Report%20to%20Congress.pdf>. IDA (Institute for Defense Analyses). 1989. Maintaining the Capital Stock at Department of Defense Test and Evaluation Sites. Alexandria, Va.: Institute for Defense Analyses. NAPA (National Academy of Public Administration). 2005. NASA: Human Capital Flexibilities for the 21st Century Workforce. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Public Administration. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). 2006a. Deferred Maintenance Assessment Report, FY06 NASA-Wide Standardized Deferred Maintenance Parametric Estimate—Full Assessment, Final. Washington, D.C.: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA. 2006b. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Workforce Strategy. Washington, D.C.: NASA. Available online at <http://nasapeople.nasa.gov/HCM/WorkforceStrategy.pdf>. NRC (National Research Council). 2006. Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at <http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11664>. NRC. 2007. Building a Better NASA Workforce: Meeting the Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available online at <www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11916>. White House. 2004. President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program. Washington, D.C.: White House. Available online at <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040114-3.html>.