For over 70 years, NASA’s Ames Research Center has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2,500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in a wide array of areas of expertise, such as nanotechnology, fundamental space biology, supercomputing, and thermal protection systems.
Within Ames, a team of 150 software and aeronautical engineers is part of a project working towards NextGen, short for ‘Next Generation Air Transportation System.’ With around 5,000 aircraft in the airspace at any given moment, a number projected to double in the next 20 years, this team’s mission is to enable the nation’s air transportation system to evolve with maximum safety, reliability, and efficiency. The NextGen team’s work is vital to meeting continued growth in air traffic and increasing the Nation’s mobility to support economic progress. The team at Ames collaborates with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop advanced automation tools that provide air traffic controllers, pilots, and other airspace users with more accurate real-time information about the nation’s traffic flow, weather, and routing. Precision is a key enabler of NextGen.
“We build real-time tools that help air traffic controllers more efficiently guide airplanes to runways or meter flights through busy air space,” explains Michelle Eshow, an aerospace engineer who manages the team’s real-time development projects. “We also build big, fast-time simulations that model the whole system and look at future concepts, like what would happen if traffic doubled.”