Nov 24, 2004
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) establishment and use of wind tunnel and propulsion test facilities have helped the United States build and maintain aerospace competitive advantage across the military, commercial, and space sectors. Are these major facilities continuing to serve the current and future needs of the nation at large? At the request of Congress and NASA, the RAND Corporation performed a yearlong study of the 31 such facilities at three NASA centers. The study examined current and future national needs for wind tunnel and propulsion test facilities, the technical competitiveness of NASA’s facilities, functional overlap and redundancy among NASA facilities, and management issues. The study recommends that NASA develop an aeronautics test technology vision and plan; analyze the viability of a national test facility plan with the Department of Defense; continue to use an appropriate mix of facility, computational, and flight testing; maintain an identified minimum set of NASA facilities, specifically leaving out two facilities that are not serving national needs and are weakly competitive, redundant, and poorly utilized; identify financial shared support to keep its underutilized but important facilities from entering financial collapse; and pursue selected investments in test facilities. A companion report (Wind Tunnel and Propulsion Test Facilities: Supporting Analyses to an Assessment of NASA’s Capabilities to Serve National Needs, TR-134-NASA/OSD) presents additional details of the researchers’ findings.