BIG BLUE: Autonomous Flight Demonstration of Mars Airplane Technology

Grants and Contracts Details


The goal of the 2003 Workforce Development Program is to positively impact the development of NASA's future workforce via participation ofa diverse group of talented students in experiences to influence their selection of an aerospace career. Building on the successful 2002 Workforce Development project, the premise of this proposal is to involve undergraduate students in a unique opportunity to experience the excitement of research and development of a complex aerospace system including state-of-the-art technology and interaction as peers with researchers at NASA and aerospace industry contractors. In essence, students join the aerospace workforce while participating in this project, influencing their decision to choose and pursue an aerospace career when such a choice is unlikely without their involvement. Further, the experience of being involved in the design, development, testing and flight of a complex, stateof- the-art aerospace system produces graduates with knowledge of multidisciplinary teamwork and systems engineering uncommon or nonexistent in typical engineering capstone design experiences. Consequently any student choosing an aerospace career is highly qualified to make an immediate contribution. The proposed project, BIG BLUE Phase II (Baseline Inflatable-wing Glider, Balloon-Launched Unmanned Experiment), combines the excitement of learning to fly (IOOyears after the first flight) with that of exploring Mars. The technical goal of the 2003 BIG BLUE Phase II student flight experiment is to demonstrate feasibility of inflatable/rigidizable wings for flight in the low-density atmosphere of Mars. The concept, team organization and team leadership build on the successful flight experiment in May 2003 in which the BIG BLUE Phase I aircraft demonstrated - for the first time anywhere - the successful deployment at 55,000 ft and UVexposure cure of inflatable/rigidizable composite wings while ascending to a maximum altitude of 89,603 feet before parachuting down. The BIG BLUE Phase II aircraft will also be launched via high-altitude weather balloon (scheduled for May 2004) to a hover altitude of 110,000 feet. There, the inflatable/rigidizable wings will deploy and cure in the UV radiation of the sun. Upon confirmation of successful deployment (via instrumentation and onboard ATV video link), the aircraft will release from the balloon, autonomously descend under tail control and parachute to recovery . Undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky benefit from immediate involvement in the design and flight of BIG BLUE. However, many other students (K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels) throughout Kentucky are impacted through various activities and outreach efforts including design of a permanent hands-on display at the Lexington Aviation Museum, participation in "Learn-to-Fly" activities hosted by BIG BLUE students and faculty, development of documentary videos, and K-12 school visits, among others.
Effective start/end date1/1/045/31/05


  • Western Kentucky University: $83,519.00


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