October 20th, 2006 12:07 EST
Rocket scientists gather at space propulsion program review
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research here recently completed a program review on space propulsion and power in Annapolis, Md.
About 150 rocket scientists from leading universities and small businesses throughout the nation gathered to share recent results from their AFOSR-funded research and to hear about related Air Force initiatives.
"This event was very successful," said Dr. Mitat Birkan, program manager and conference host. "It is important to provide a forum where the principal investigators we fund can communicate with each other in an effective way. This venue also prompts attendees to ask provocative questions about space propulsion."
Dr. Birkan, who manages the space power and propulsion basic research investment portfolio at AFOSR, explained why continued funding toward this research is so important.
"We have to be able to continue superiority in space," Dr. Birkan said. "If we don't then someone else will take over."
The keynote address was given by Dr. Mark Lewis, chief scientist of the Air Force. Dr. Lewis discussed Air Force initiatives in aerospace technology within the space propulsion arena, specifically high speed hypersonic flight, space access, and space technologies.
Other featured speakers included Jacques Gansler, vice president of research, University of Maryland; Roger Lipitz, chair in public policy and private enterprise and the former under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; and Dr. Thomas Russell, director, AFOSR Aerospace and Material Sciences Directorate.
"As I started researching basic research investments in this area, I discovered that Dr. Mitat's program is probably the strongest and the largest program in space propulsion and power in the United States," Dr. Russell said. "If it were not for Dr. Mitat's program, I'm not sure we'd actually have a sustained effort at this point in time across the DOD."
Many of the scientists at the event are conducting basic research aligned with the Air Force's long-term objectives in aerospace technology. These areas include hypersonics, harnessing energy systems, multifunctional materials, and micro-propulsion. Some scientists also presented futuristic theories.
For example, Dr. Mark Cappelli, a professor at Stanford University, presented, "Toward Reduced Wall-Effect Hall Plasma Accelerators." Dr. Cappelli's team is charged with the task of understanding the way hall thrusters work. A hall thruster is a type of plasma-based propulsion system for space vehicles.
"During my presentation I proposed the question 'what if you could build a propulsion device that was free of any physical surface so you wouldn't have to worry about the degradation of the surface or engine because there isn't anything there. If you could do that, essentially you'd have a device that has a limitless life," Dr. Cappelli explained.
Many other topics were also presented at the program review. Major subject areas included plume dynamics, chemical propulsion, combustion stability innovations for liquid rocket engines, microchemical propulsion, electric propulsion, hall thrusters, and electrospray propulsion.
Additionally several workshops were conducted to brainstorm new areas of research. Workshop topics included multi-functionality in the design and operation of space propulsion systems, and advances in combustion stability for liquid rocket engines. These workshops are one way Dr. Birkan collected funding ideas for AFOSR's Aerospace and Materials Sciences Directorate.
The AFOSR aerospace and materials sciences directorate is responsible for research activities in aerospace, engineering, and materials. At present, its program mangers oversee more than 350 basic research projects. The four major projects in the directorate are solid mechanics and structures, structural materials, fluid dynamics, and propulsion.
by Erin Crawley
Air Force Office of Scientific Research Public Affairs