Washington Beat 4-20-98

April 20, 1998

4 Min Read
Washington Beat 4-20-98

April 20, 1998 Design News

Washington Beat

Technical news from the nation's capital

by Walter Wingo, Washington Editor

Engineering Academy to present Charles Draper Prize annually

The Charles Stark Draper Prize, the richest award in the engineering profession, will be bestowed annually beginning in the year 2000. The award will include a cash prize projected to be no less than $500,000. Since 1988, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has presented the prize every other year. NAE President William A. Wulf says he hopes the change "can help improve the public's understanding of the role that engineering plays in our daily lives." The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. (Cambridge, MA) endowed the prize. Its purpose is to recognize individuals whose outstanding engineering achievements have contributed to the well being and freedom of all humanity. Charles "Doc" Draper was the father of modern inertial guidance systems used in aircraft, space vehicles, strategic missiles, and submarines and the navigational system for Apollo missions.

House Science panel disputes Clinton's R&D budget

The President's R&D budget for fiscal years 1999 to 2003 is shaky, contends an analysis by the House Science Committee. Funding for the Administration's suggested $31 billion Research Fund for America, the report says, "is based on uncertain tax increases and uncollected money from the proposed tobacco settlement." If no tobacco settlement is reached, R&D will be "reduced substantially." The Research Fund, to be comprised mostly of existing programs, is part of the White House request to raise total R&D funding in real dollars for fiscal 1999 by 3% over current levels. For the other years, however, real spending would be less than fiscal 1998 levels, according to the analysis. In fiscal 2001--for the first time in 20 years--non-defense R&D would surpass defense R&D, and continue to rise.

Report cites key technologies needed for space missions

Where should NASA engineers be placing more attention in preparing for future space activities? A committee of the National Research Council studied the question and came up with six technological areas for which additional R&D "should be prioritized." The areas include: 1)tools for mining resources from the moon, Mars, or other planets, with the focus on extraction, processing, and storage methods; 2)high-frequency, wideband interplanetary communications systems with reduced weight, power requirements, and costs; 3)microelectromechanical systems for use in spacecraft sensors, communications, navigation, power, and propulsion; 4)safer nuclear power systems with improved energy-conversion efficiency for deep-space missions; 5)radiation-resistant computer memories and electronics through lightweight shielding, protective materials, and data-recovery methods; and 6)precisely controlled antennas, mirrors, and other space structures needed to develop giant space radars and telescopes. The committee says NASA should ensure that much of the research it funds in these six technology areas be conducted through private firms and universities. In the next three to five years, the report adds, NASA should reassess whether the areas should continue to be developed or whether other fields hold more promise.

Powerful microscopes emerge from missile research

Among spin-offs from research sponsored by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization(BMDO) are two very powerful, but different, microscopes. One is an infrared device that uses a focal plane array to obtain both spectral images and signatures of biological and materials. A group of researchers at the National Institutes of Health developed the microscope based on work by BMDO's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle program. Essex Corp. (Columbia, MD) invented the other microscope, parlaying BMDO-sponsored development of a wideband-range Doppler imager for ground-based radar. The Essex microscope can produce high-resolution holographic images in a few seconds.

NASA web site helps students learn about airplane design

NASA is using the Internet to show students and the general public what airplane designers do. The agency has created an electronic site, called Aero Design Team Online, at http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ano/index-new.asp. There NASA demonstrates how aeronautical engineers use airplane models, wind tunnels, supercomputers, simulators, and other tools during the airplane design cycle. The project continues through May, although plans are underway to extend it into summer. "We're teaching about airplane design through the lives of people who are doing the work," says Susan Lee of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. "For example, we're following a wind tunnel test of a model of a future supersonic airliner," she explains. Students can ask questions through e-mail and participate in Internet chats with engineers from teams that design and test airplanes. An aim of Aero Design Team Online is to inspire students to pursue high-tech careers.

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