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Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program

Adaptive Aerostructures for Revolutionary Civil Supersonic Transportation

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Concept behind the Texas A&M led NASA ULI project: a) illustrates possible optimal adapted aircraft configurations in response to an off-condition performance, b) illustrates the benefit of continuous adaptivity for supersonic flight to sonic boom noise levels, and c) identifies potential locations where small/distributed surface adaptions would occur in real-time throughout a flight to achieve the adaption benefits illustrated in a) and b).

To enable commercially viable civil supersonic transport (SST) aircraft, innovative solutions must be developed to meet noise and efficiency requirements for overland flight. This research effort consists of a multi-disciplinary team of academic and industrial experts exploring for the first time the potential of small real-time geometric outer mold line (OML) reconfigurations to minimize sonic boom signatures and aircraft drag in response to changing ambient conditions, thereby enabling noise-compliant overland supersonic flight. The team utilizes recent advances in supersonic computational fluid dynamic (CFD) methods, new noise prediction tools, and new design approaches to consider embedded highly energy-dense shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators for local shape modifications to an SST aircraft leading to optimal low boom signature and low drag in different environments.  This university-led program will provide strategic leadership toward technology convergence that advances NASA's Aerospace Research Mission Directorate's (ARMD) research objectives with regard to Thrust 2: “Innovation in Commercial Supersonic Aircraft” by exploring for the first time enabling low-boom operation across a range of flight conditions via structural adaptivity, and will promote education of the next generation of engineers.

The overall research strategy is to pursue three critical areas: the design of configurations for reducing boom, SMA material development and modeling, and technology feasibility demonstration in a relevant environment. Initially, the team will identify potential applications where structure or geometry adaptivity provides a benefit in noise or drag across the entire flight envelope. For selected applications/structural locations, required OML geometry changes will be determined based on analysis of sonic boom ground signature and drag reduction using new design tools, trade studies, and atmospheric sensing techniques. Designs will be developed and evaluated against requirements on loading, stroke length, and operational temperature. New alloy formulations will be developed tailored for both autonomous and controlled actuation modes. As the SMA material development matures, integrated system-level factors will be investigated. Optimized designs for small-scale distributed adaptivity applications of maximum benefit will then be matured and tested, moving toward demonstration of the innovative technology approaches at a TRL 4-5 and showing that sonic booms can be reduced by reconfiguration on demand.

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