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NASA boss visits test center

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Washington, August 30, 2018 | Chris Jusuf (202-225-1956) | comments

AVPress
August 30, 2018 
By Allison Gatlin

MOJAVE - NASA is moving forward on a number of fronts in both aeronautics and space to expand knowledge and advance technology, paving the way for commercial firms to move that technology into use.

"This is what NASA does; we push the very edge of the envelope," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday during a visit to NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air and Space Port.

NASA has been assessing risks since its beginnings 60 years ago, he said, and looks to do those things that private industry finds too risky economically to invest in themselves.

"If we can retire that risk and enable these new technology and capabilities to be commercialized, it will pay dividends for the United States of America," he said.

Bridenstine cited numerous examples of technology in everyday use today that was pioneered by NASA in one way or another, from satellite television to GPS, weather forecasting to aiding farmers with their crops.

"It has elevated the human condition in ways that most of America doesn't yet know," he said. "Some people are afraid of change. We at NASA are not. We embrace it."

Bridenstine toured Armstrong as part of series of visits introducing the new administrator to the agency's various centers. His visit Tuesday then moved down the road to the Mojave Air and Space Port for a roundtable discussion with a number of the aerospace companies partnering with NASA on a range of projects.

The visit ended at Scaled Composites, where the firm is completing systems integration on the X-57 electric airplane technology demonstrator in preparation for the project's first phase of flight testing.

"He is a really engaged person. He wants to know what's going on," Rep. Steve Knight said of his former colleague on the House Science and Technology Committee. Knight also took part in the roundtable discussion.

The Palmdale Republican said the new administrator supports the agency's aeronautics portfolio, what Knight calls "the big A in NASA."

"Jim is a huge supporter of aeronautics. He knows what aeronautics does," Knight said.

While plans to return to the moon and remain there as a step to exploration further into space capture the headlines, NASA also supports a robust effort into advancements in aeronautics that apply much closer to home.

"We're working on a new generation of X-planes at NASA, especially the Armstrong Flight Research Center," Bridenstine said.

The administrator spoke with reporters in Mojave in front of the X-57, using the experimental aircraft as one example of the work NASA is doing in developing technology that will one day be used by industry.

"This is an (all-electric) aircraft that is on the brink of being ready to fly. This is a capability that has been developed for a while now by NASAmaking those activities available to the public so that ultimately commercial industry can take the technology that we develop and commercialize it, which is good for the United States of America and its good for exports," he said.

A second example of NASA developing technology for future use by industry is the X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology demonstrator, QueSST.

"We want to be able to fly across the United States in half the amount of time that it normally takes," Bridenstine said.

To do so will require supersonic flight, currently prohibited over land as the sonic booms created are disturbing to people on the ground.

The X-59 will demonstrate less-disruptive supersonic flight, gauging responses to show reason to lift the prohibition.

"We're going to create a regulatory environment where we can fly across the United States supersonic. If we can do that, a whole new capability, it will be transformational for everybody," Bridenstine said.

Already several companies are pursuing quiet supersonic business aircraft designs.

"It's not just good for NASA, it's good for American commerce in general," he said.

Bridenstine said these two experimental aircraft are likely to be followed by more in support of advances in aviation.

"There's no shortage of ideas of what the next X-plane might be," he said.

One transformational area, he said, is in the field of urban air mobility, ideas such as "air taxis" to move people and goods short distances within cities.

These would likely be autonomous, without pilots on board, and may begin with cargo before moving on to passenger service.

"I really think a great opportunity for the United States of America is urban air mobility," Bridenstine said. "That would be transformational and the United States should be at the forefront of that."

Space travel and exploration is another area where NASA is working to pave the way for commercial entities to follow.

Companies such as Virgin Galactic and Masten Space Systems in Mojave are striving to offer greater access to space with the support and encouragement of NASA, Bridenstine said.

The agency would like to see commercial industry take over operations in suborbital space and even low-Earth orbit, "then NASA can use its resources to do more than we have even be able to do before," he said. "That's really our objective."

Bridenstine spoke of a future where commercial activity in space is joined by multiple companies and where NASA is but one of the customers.

"It could be tourism, it could be research, it could be manufacturing, it could be a whole host of capabilities" where commercial companies could work in space, he said. "A lot of companies here in Mojave are engaged in that activity."

Bridenstine was optimistic regarding NASA in terms of funding and support from Congress and the White House, with increases to the agency's budget demonstrating that support.

"We're actually seeing more bipartisan support for NASA than we have in a long time," the former Congressman from Oklahoma said.

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