NASA’s Top Civil Servant Discusses Transformational Tech, Collaboration Written 18 June 2019
by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America Editor-in-Chief
AIAA AVIATION FORUM, Dallas, June 18, 2019 — NASA will make technical progress in the years ahead by focusing on modeling and simulation, autonomous control, and additive manufacturing while continuing to emphasize wide-ranging collaboration, said NASA Associate Administrator Stephen Jurczyk today during the “NASA Aeronautics” session.
He said these technologies are among those that “will help to transform aero and space.”
Jurcyzk said a stint running the research directorate at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia was instructive.
“One of the areas I was impressed with was computational fluid dynamics,” he said, adding that CFD team at Langley was “organized and methodical.”
Turning to planetary missions, Jurczyk noted that it’s impossible to fully replicate a Mars landing with tests on Earth. Safely reaching the surface of Mars required relying on the “simulation environment” developed for the space shuttle fleet, he said. He noted that the U.S. is “the only country that’s landed something on the planet that’s functioned after it’s landed.”
As for autonomous control, Jurczyk said that it takes a “really long time to drive a kilometer on Mars.” A rover must drive and then pause while data is analyzed on Earth.
Adopting autonomy will be important on Mars and elsewhere, but doing so poses challenges. Jurczyk said researchers in the self-driving car world are finding the same thing: “It’s pretty hard.”
As an example of progress, he said that when the SpaceX Crew Dragon docked with the International Space Station in March, the feat marked the first autonomous docking at ISS, albeit without a crew aboard the capsule in this test.
Jurczyk said he hopes Boeing can be cleared to launch its CST-100 Starliner to ISS in “the fall time frame” without a crew. He did not predict when the first crew might be launched on either vehicle.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has been challenging because “we’re talking about people’s lives,” Jurczyk said.
Discussing air safety, he observed that society views air crashes differently than auto crashes. “As a society, we just accept” that there will be fatal car crashes as “the price” of freedom of travel, he said, adding that air travel differs because “when we have a bad day, it’s a really bad day.”
On additive metal manufacturing, Jurczyk noted that taking a “clean sheet” approach to designing components such as turbo machinery can dramatically reduce parts counts.
“We learned that pretty quickly,” he said.
On the topic of collaboration, he said it will run the gamut from working with the U.S. industry and academia to working with other countries. Jurczyk said he is sometimes asked how NASA can continue working with its Russian counterparts aboard the space station.
“We both value the mission we’re doing on ISS,” so collaboration continues, he said, adding, “No doubt, in the last few years it’s been a little more challenging.”
He noted that the U.S. law restricting scientific collaboration with China does provide an avenue to request exceptions.
“We can do it, but it takes effort, and it’s got to make sense” to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Jurczyk said.