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Strategic Science

The Glenn Research Center is supporting NASA science objectives in many areas by applying our core competencies and experiences to address new challenges in a strategic sense. This page describes some of the ways GRC is utilizing its strengths in instrumentation, flight concept and development engineering, and science to develop advanced remote or in situ instrumentation, partner with scientists on missions and instruments, or applying scientific processes to address fundamental questions.

NASA GRC has developed unique instruments in support of NASA science. One recent example is the development of seismometer that can function at the extreme pressures and temperatures found on the surface of Venus. To meet such a requirement specialized high-temperature electronics are being developed that can operate at over 500° C (or 900° F), a temperature at which many metals glow red. The seismometer is being designed to operate wirelessly so that any interactions between a Venus lander and its environment can be minimized and thereby achieve better seismic data.

Other instruments and sensors are being developed and are at various stages of maturity, some flight ready and others at lower Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). Examples include a suite of sensors for Dust Characterization in a Mars environment. The suite of sensors includes a spectrometer, microscope, dust counter, radiometer and others. Flight versions of some this suite were built and delivered for integration with a spacecraft.

Another instrument developed at GRC is an airborne hyperspectral imager. This imaging spectrometer operates in the visible wavelengths and near infrared with two nm spectral resolution and approximately two m (six ft) resolution when flying at three km (10,000 ft). This instrument has been used on multiple science campaigns to study water quality, specifically early detection of harmful algae blooms.

An example on the other end of the maturity level is the GRC patented radiation sensor. This sensor is unique in its ability to sense radiation from multiple directions in a highly compact and efficient manner.

The Center has been developing a unique world class capability for planetary science called the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER). GEER is a unique and world class ground-based test rig that can accurately simulate atmospheric conditions for any planet or moon in the solar system and beyond. This capability enables basic science investigations and pre-flight development and validation of spacecraft systems and instrumentation in extreme environments. GEER includes a three cubic m (24 cubic ft) chamber and will be able to simulate the extreme temperatures over 500° C (900° F) and pressure (from near vacuum to over 90 times the Earth’s surface pressure). GEER has gas mixing capabilities to reproduce unique planetary environments, such as the very caustic sulfuric acid found in Venus’ atmosphere, or hydrocarbons like methane found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.

The Center’s concurrent engineering design team, Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems (COMPASS), has studied and generated numerous science mission concepts and conceptual spacecraft designs along with all the supporting data like master equipment lists (MELs), cost models, power budgets, and so on. The team works with scientists in real time to develop a complete concept and identify first order mission highlights and challenges.  Mission and instrument concepts are matured to support science program plans and the best concepts are proposed in NASA’s science solicitations.  More information on Glenn Engineering labs including COMPASS and mission concepts may be found at http://engineering.grc.nasa.gov/labs.htm.