NASA Now: Air Traffic Management

[ Sound Effects ] Hi, I’m Leigh and
this is NASA Now. At any given time there are
about 3,000 aircraft flying over the United States. We’ll tell you what
NASA engineers are doing to make it our airspace
safer and more efficient. That’s ahead but
first let’s finds out what’s happening
at NASA now. [ Sound Effects] An estimated one billion
passengers will travel by air in the year 2012. NASA is currently
researching the next generation of aviation concepts. One of them is called the EDA,
Efficient Descent Advisor. This is a tool for air
traffic controllers that synchronizes the
descent of arriving planes. Engineers say EDA would
be more fuel-efficient, would minimize noise
and emissions, while avoiding other traffic. And, Juno is on track
to launch this summer. Hey Juno looks like an armored
tank and is heading to Jupiter, which has more radiation than any other place NASA
has ever sent a spacecraft, except for the sun. Juno will have to withstand
the equivalent of more than 100 million dental x-rays. The mission hopes to shed light
on how planet formation unfolds in other solar systems. Now, let’s take a
look at the past. [ Sound Effects] The year was 1925. That’s when the first control
tower for an airport was made. The tower was located
in Northeast Ohio at the Cleveland Hopkins
International Airport. NASA aerospace engineers are
working on the next generation of aviation concepts for keeping
our airspace safe and efficient. Here to fill us in on the tools
they are developing is aerospace engineer Aisha Bowe from
NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. My name is Aisha Bowe and
I am an Aerospace Engineer in the Aviation Systems Division
at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. In the upcoming years, it’s
anticipated that the level of air traffic demand will
increase significantly. In order to accommodate
this NASA is investigating and developing technologies
or tools that are concerned with increasing capacity,
efficiency and safety of the National Air
Transportation System. At present air traffic
controllers direct air traffic on the ground and in the air. This is primarily done
to avoid collisions but also provides a
really effective way to organize the flow of traffic,
expedite it if necessary and also prevent
collisions between aircraft. The act of preventing
these collisions is called maintaining separation. Separation you can think
about as an aircraft being in the center of a
hockey puck, right? And the hockey puck
is five nautical miles across and 1,000 feet high. When the aircraft are flying through the sky they
both form hockey pucks and we don’t want these
hockey pucks to touch. With the increase of
traffic that we’re seeing or that we anticipate, we’re
concerned that there are going to be possible losses
of separation, which is what we call
when one of these borders of the hockey pucks touch
and we want to prevent this. In order to do so,
we’re investigating ways in which we can automate
portions of the air traffic system through the development
of technology. No matter what decisions are
made safety is always the number one concern and there is always
redundancy in the system. Redundancy is when you have
multiple layers of safety. It’s sort of like when you
go outside and say you want to go roller-skating, right? You might put on
your knee protectors, your elbow protectors
and wear your helmet. That is, in some sense, like redundancy you
have multiple ways in which you are making yourself
safe from becoming hurt. Right now, I’m focusing on evaluating the way aircraft
avoid each other while on route. Typically aircraft have
been rerouted based off of minimum delay but as environmental concerns
are becoming more pressing, there’s been some
interest in seeing if we can reroute aircraft who are predicted
to lose separation. Remember the hockey puck and
see if we can do maneuvers that are fuel-efficient
and compare them to ones that are time efficient. In doing so, I have
to make the trade off. In that I need to look
at the fuel efficiency, the total fuel efficiency of the
flight over the entire journey, as well as the amount
of delay that’s created by increasing the fuel
efficiency and see if this is acceptable. What I found through
the use of simulation is that by using fuel-efficient
routes the delay of the aircraft increased
significantly. This wasn’t deemed appropriate
because it causes the system to be extremely out of balance. Even though we saved a lot of fuel we increased
the delay significantly. Flights were hours, half an hour
late and this is unacceptable. In order to deal with this
the next step will be looking to strike a balance
with by seeing if we can get the same
increase in fuel efficiency but for lower delay amounts. This would be more acceptable. Here at NASA, I get
the opportunity to not only see planes
on a daily basis, I get to run simulations
that are nearly exact copies of how these things
behave and that’s amazing. [ Sound Effects ] Did you know that the windows in an airport control
tower must be tilted out at exactly 15 degrees
to minimize reflections? If not, the controllers
would see the reflection of their own equipment. Now you know. Hey, now it’s time to
check out what’s up. [ Sound Effects ] Go to the NASA Explorer
Schools’ Virtual Campus and look for this link. Click on it so you can see
the number of planes traveling across America during
a 24-hour time period. You’ll be amazed at just
how crowded our skies are. [ Sound Effects ] Here’s some cool
activities for you and your classmates to work on. First, you can construct
your own dodecahedron. A dodecahedron is
a 12-sided object. Each face is shaped
like a regular pentagon and features a different
NASA aircraft. After you finish creating
your dodecahedron then hang it from your ceiling or place it
on a shelf in your classroom. Plus, there’s a cool interactive
game that tests your skills at lining up planes
on a virtual runway. For more info on these and
other cool activities go to NASA Explorer
Schools’ Virtual Campus. Well that’s it for NASA Now,
be sure to tune in next week when you will learn what
Extremeophiles are all about. We’ll see you then on NASA Now. [ Sound Effects ] NASA Now comes to you
from the Virtual Campus at NASA Explorer Schools.

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