NASA research center opens first new lab in nearly 30 years

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — Even before they cut the ribbon, a prototype tripod-mounted sensor was tracking the sun on the roof of the newly opened NASA-Langley Research Center’s Measurement Systems Laboratory.

Langley’s first new lab in nearly three decades officially opened on April 21. But Charles Hill, a scientist with NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosols and Gases Experiment, has already set up the program’s SAGE-IV prototype to see if it can bring 30-plus years. research program an even broader scope.

SAGE-IV is a telescope-spectrometer combination that can observe sunlight passing through the atmosphere and measure what invisible gaseous chemicals are there and what microscopic particles are floating around.

Hill thinks it could replace the desktop-sized SAGE-III device, which is part of the International Space Station’s external payload at the end of its useful life.

The size of the prototype opens up the possibility of deploying sensors in small satellites to collect much more data over much larger geographic areas – data that can track pollutants, greenhouse gases and ozone that affect the climate and public health in general, he said.

The heart of the SAGE-IV is an approximately four-inch by eight-inch by twelve-inch box that contains a small telescope, mirrors, and a rotating green plastic wheel that breaks up sunlight into different wavelengths that are introduced in the spectrometer of the box. The way atoms and molecules in the atmosphere mask or reveal the colors of sunlight tells Hill what’s in the air. Langley engineer Dave MacDonnell said his team came up with the design and refined it over several years.

Hill was working just steps away from space where other researchers will work on laser-based LIDAR systems that will help spacecraft accurately map landing spots as NASA returns to the Moon and ventures to Mars. , said Clayton Turner, director of NASA Langley.

These researchers will fire their lasers at the peninsula’s water towers and other structures to test accuracy, as well as into the sky to get different atmospheric readings than Hill’s SAGE-IV; they will work in indoor spaces that they can shield behind thick black curtains.

Five floors below, in a metal box the size of a classroom, Jay Ely studies how high doses of radiation can disrupt electronics, navigation systems and aircraft structures.

“It’s basically a giant microwave oven,” he said.

Thick black curtains upstairs prevent stray light rays from interfering with LIDAR lasers; the metal on the walls of his reverb lab can limit stray radiation to a tenth of what is emitted.

This stops cell phones and electricity running through some of the nearly 20 miles of wiring in the new Measurement Systems Laboratory building from rejecting what Ely and his team see – and also protects them when they go out so they can zap aircraft parts and systems. with potentially lethal doses of radiation.

Work in the new $95.6 million Measurement Systems Laboratory building will include developed sensor and antenna technologies essential for work on Langley’s personal air vehicle programs, as well as test systems for refining Langley’s aerodynamic flow and heating computer models – the models that have already led to the development of a prototype supersonic passenger plane that does not generate deafening sonic booms.

A sensor jokingly dubbed the “proton torpedo” because it looks like something out of Star Trek, will bring together data researchers and engineers who hope to help them develop new ways for planes to dodge bad weather, other planes and even lightning.

The Measurement Systems Laboratory’s work on sensors and measurement instruments will support three key NASA missions: safely landing spacecraft and mapping the Moon and Mars, finding more efficient and safer ways to operate planes on Earth and understand Earth’s atmosphere and climate, Turner said.

He said he thought the lab was designed and built “to encourage people to collaborate, to hear new ideas of how to do things…we don’t want people to just think of a gimmick, we want them to think about how it’s what we’re doing that’s going to change people’s lives.

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