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Ellington Airport is Key for NASA Testing

Forty flights focus on gravity issues

Houston Airport System
May 24, 2010

© Houston Airport System
Ellington Airport covers NASA astrocauts from training to homecomin

Ellington Airport (EFD) is playing a pivotal role in a series of gravity-related tests for NASA.

The tests, designed to demonstrate whether emerging technologies can perform as expected in the reduced-gravity environment, mark the third consecutive year for NASA’s testing program at the Houston airport.

Seventeen different demonstration projects, involving U.S. companies, universities and NASA laboratories from ten different states, will be undertaken as a result of the program.

“It’s always been a thrill to partner with NASA because the possibilities are just enormous,” says Brian Rinehart, airport manager at EFD. “The sky is not the limit when you work with these men and women because they go beyond that thinking on a daily basis.”

NASA selected the projects through its Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology (FAST) program, which is designed to incorporate new technologies into NASA’s flight programs and other commercial aerospace applications.

The projects will address gravity-related challenges such as:

  • Monitoring human health
  • Managing liquid propellants
  • Maneuvering vehicles
  • Assembling structures
  • Manufacturing in space
Forty reduced-gravity flights will take place at Ellington Airport, with NASA providing no cost flight time for the project test teams and providing oversight through specialized personnel from the Johnson Space Center.

In the past, NASA officials have used their facility at EFD to train astronauts on the effects of weightlessness, but in 2008 the gravity-related work at Ellington was expanded.

That’s when NASA launched the FAST program, which teamed the agency with a company called “Zero G” in operating weightless flights using a modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft.

NASA officials say they rely on testing like this in order to reduce the risk associated with using new technologies during actual space missions.

The flights routinely provide insight into why some technologies may fail before deploying them on a costly ride into the unforgiving environment of space.

“It makes perfect sense that this type of work would take place at Ellington,” Rinehart says. “This airport has been home to groundbreaking training for almost a hundred years, so it makes perfect sense that the next chapter of aviation history would be written here.”

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