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Flying an Airplane Like a Rocket
NASA Armstrong's high-performance F/A-18 Full-Scale Advanced Systems Testbed (FAST) aircraft was key to helping test and validate the effectiveness of innovative self-adaptive software being considered for use in the next-generation Space Launch System (SLS). Developed by engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center, the SLS rocket will be NASA's largest and most powerful launch vehicle for deep space missions. The adaptive software is designed to make real-time adjustments as a vehicle pushes toward space, helping to improve rocket performance and enhance crew safety in the particularly stressful launch portions of flight. The team installed SLS flight control software onto research computers aboard the FAST aircraft and simulated a rocket in its early flight phase to test the adaptive control software. The FAST aircraft's high performance allowed
it to fly a trajectory that was dynamically similar to a rocket launch. This collaborative project yielded a major advance in launch vehicle flight control technology and substantially accelerated the application of adaptive control to manned systems.
Work to date: Flight tests occurred at Armstrong in late 2013. During these flights, almost 100 SLS trajectories and over a dozen straight-and-level airframe structural amplification tests were successfully executed, many of which focused on collecting additional data regarding the interaction of the pilot, the simulated SLS vehicle dynamics, and the adaptive augmenting control algorithm.
Looking ahead: The team is analyzing flight data and considering ways to apply similar technology to aircraft and atmospheric re-entry vehicles.
NASA Partners: Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA Engineering and Safety Center
' The goal of the F/A-18 flights was to advance the technology readiness of the SLS adaptive control design by operating it in a relevant environment while intro-ducing a wide variety of unusual launch scenarios. Test pilots also exercised the SLS controller's manual steering mode,
providing valuable feedback on its design and performance. '
Curtis Hanson, PI
Armstrong's Research and Engineering Directorate is responsible for the overall engineering content of flight research projects. Our engineers provide technical expertise in aerodynamics; guidance, navigation, and control; propulsion; static and dynamic structures; flight hardware and software; flight and ground test instrumentation and data systems; and system engineering and integration. They apply their expertise across the spectrum of Armstrong's many activities and also support the development and continual evolution of engineering tools and test techniques. Here are highlights from a few recent and particularly notable engineering success stories.
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