National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Materials & Structures

  • Engages in research, development, and flight application of advanced materials, structures, and mechanisms for aerospace systems, with activities ranging from materials research at nanoscale to design and testing of structures and mechanical systems for aeronautics and space flight programs.
  • Research and development activities are focused on developing enabling technologies for high-performance, long-life, and lightweight aerospace systems subjected to extreme environments encountered in propulsion and power, planetary entry, planetary surface operations, and space environment.
  • Activities include high temperature materials and coatings; lightweight materials for dynamic and rotating systems; smart materials; functional ceramics and polymers; multifunctional and adaptive structures; integrated computational materials and structures modeling emphasizing multiscale and multiphysics modeling; mechanisms and tribology; mechanical and electrical drive systems; rotating structures; analysis and experimental verification of loads and dynamics; advanced structural concepts and structural optimization; and integrated mechanical systems design.
  • Implements specialized and unique test capabilities to test durability of materials and structural components in extreme environments, which include combination of high temperature, mechanical loads, and complex gaseous atmospheres ranging from oxidizing to reducing and vacuum atmosphere; large dynamic and impact loads; molten material deposits on components; cryogenic temperatures; and space environment.

Chief: James J. Zakrajsek
Deputy Chief: Joyce A. Dever

Technical Focus Areas

Ceramic and Polymer Composites

  • Focuses on advancing both ceramic matrix and polymer matrix composites technology through development of constituent materials, innovative textile architectures, and fabrication processes; understanding failure mode and damage mechanisms through testing under controlled experiments simulating the thermomechanical loading and harsh environmental conditions representative of the application; developing physics-based models for failure modes and damage mechanisms relating constituent properties and microstructure to damage, and applying models for design of composite components.
  • Activities include development and flight application of silicon carbide fiber reinforced silicon carbide ceramic matrix composites (SiC/SiC CMCs); and carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites for rotating components, impact dynamic-resistant structures, and large composite space flight structures.
  • Develops new test methods and standards for composite testing.
  • Facilities include many specialized laboratories: fiber testing; high temperature testing under combination of complex mechanical loading and a variety of gaseous environment such as oxygen, moisture, inert atmosphere, and vacuum; testing of sub-elements with design features under complex loading; and mechanical testing with digital image correlation for measuring full field deformation.

Environmental Effects and Coatings

  • Conducts research to understand, predict, and demonstrate materials interactions with the harsh environments encountered in aerospace systems, and develops mitigation strategies such as coatings and materials application processes promoting long-term environmental durability and survivability.
  • Harsh environments include high temperature and high heat flux aerospace propulsion systems involving oxidizing or corrosive gases, particulates, and molten deposits; and in-space, lunar, and planetary surface environments including atomic oxygen and plasmas, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, high vacuum, abrasive dust, cryogenic temperatures, and thermal cycling.
  • Research and development includes fundamental and empirical modeling of environmental interaction, development of physics-based models and validation of models through harsh-environment exposure testing, and the conception, development, and demonstration of protective coatings and engineered materials at all technology readiness levels.
  • Utilizes specialized capabilities including: plasma spray-physical vapor deposition, high pressure burner rig, erosion burner rig, quick access rocket exhaust rig, high temperature mass spectrometry, high heat flux laser testing combined with moisture and mechanical loading, atomic oxygen and ultraviolet radiation exposure, and lunar and planetary surface environment simulators.

High Temperature and Smart Alloys

  • Conducts fundamental and applied research on advanced metallic materials, including high temperature nickel-base superalloys, refractory metals and alloys, titanium alloys, copper alloys, and shape memory alloys.
  • Development and application of high temperature alloys focus on increasing temperature capability of gas turbine engine components and demonstrating long-term durability of space nuclear power components.
  • Research on shape memory alloy is directed toward development of lightweight actuation systems for adaptive structures.
  • Conducts research on advanced metals and alloys with tailored properties, such as electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and magnetic properties.
  • Research and development effort for all materials include development of new alloys through understanding the interrelationships among processing, microstructure, and properties; understanding and modeling failure modes and damage mechanisms under combination of complex loading and harsh environments; and demonstrating long-term durability under conditions representative of the application.
  • Manages the Analytical Sciences Group of laboratories for the division, which includes chemical analysis, X-ray diffraction, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, electron microprobe, focused ion beam microscope, and non-destructive evaluation (NDE).

Materials Chemistry and Physics

  • Engaged in the development and application of novel ceramic and polymer materials with tailored structural, thermal, electrical, semiconducting, electrochemical, dielectric, optical, magnetic, and acoustic properties.
  • Unique material properties are sought by innovative processing techniques and microstructural engineering at the molecular and nanoscale.
  • Areas of primary interest include advanced piezoceramic, solid oxide fuel cell, and solid state battery materials; aerogels and aerogel-based composites, synthesis of nanofibers and high temperature nanotubes, polymer and ceramic nanocomposites, nanostructured thermoelectric materials for operation in harsh environments, superconducting materials, high temperature power electronics semiconductor materials; magnetic materials; environmentally-friendly high temperature polymer resins; and hybrid polymer-ceramic materials.

Mechanical System Design and Integration

  • Develops mechanical and structural designs for space flight hardware, aerospace research hardware, conceptual definition studies, and ground support equipment.
  • Provides computer aided design (CAD) and mechanical engineering to develop mechanical and structural systems from concepts to deliverable hardware.
  • Coordinates and conducts preliminary analysis of design options.
  • Provides mechanical engineering expertise over a product life cycle to deliver a final, integrated product to a customer.
  • Products include integrated, mechanical/structural design solutions, solids models, first order stress analyses, detail, assembly and installation drawings, mechanical specification development, fluid schematics, tolerance stack-ups and geometric dimensioning and tolerance assessments.

Mechanisms and Tribology

  • Performs fundamental as well as application specific research and development to advance NASA programmatic and technological goals in the areas of space and aircraft mechanisms; tribology for aerospace environments; advanced bearings; terramechanics and robotics for planetary surface mobility and excavation; large deployable structures for solar arrays and antennae; and advanced seals for turbine, thermal barrier, space habitat, and structural applications.
  • Performs conceptual and detailed mechanism design; and coordinates fabrication, integration, and testing of prototype and flight hardware mechanisms.
  • Performs conceptual and detailed mechanism design; coordinates fabrication, integration, and testing; and serves on technical review boards and expert panels.
  • Aerospace mechanisms are designed using rotordynamic analysis, ADAMs kinetic analysis, and rigid body dynamics analysis among other tools.
  • Utilizes specialized and unique testing capabilities, which include space tribometers, oil-free bearing testing, turbine seals testing up to 1500°F, large scale environmental seal testing, seal compression testing, and the Simulated Lunar OPErations (SLOPE) laboratory.

Multiscale and Multiphysics Modeling

  •  Develops, verifies, validates, and integrates multiscale and multiphysics models and methods.
  • Responsible for physics-based models, stochastic methods and the associated multiscale computational design, analysis, and optimization tools (spanning multiple length and time scales) required to make these models accessible to the engineering and material science communities.
  • Develops an integrated computational material engineering management system.
  • Develops multi-physics and multiscale models that include the interaction of structures with other physical phenomena. New models and applications include fluid-structure interaction for aeroelasticity of turbomachinery for aircraft engine, space propulsion, and power; modeling of smart/active structures with shape memory alloys or piezoelectric materials; modeling spaceflight induced bone loss; and structure-electromagnetic interactions in multifunctional structures for lightning protection.
  • Responsible for developing and applying new probabilistic tools and computational models/methods to improve understanding in materials processing including guiding the development of new experimental capabilities and the development of multifunctional and active/adaptive structural concepts.

Rotating and Drive Systems

  •  Conducts research, development, design and testing of advanced rotating components and systems for current and future aerospace systems.
  • Encompasses all aspects of aerospace rotating systems from basic research and development of advanced components through the design and testing of full concept and flight systems.
  • Fundamental as well as application specific research is pursued as needed to advance NASA programmatic and technological goals. Research efforts include novel mechanical drive components and system concepts; gear noise and dynamics; lubrication and durability; condition based maintenance; and structural and materials concepts for efficient, ultra-high power density electric machines and electric drive systems for future turboelectric and hybrid electric aircraft.
  • Performs conceptual mechanical design; detailed design; coordination of fabrication, integration, and checkout of rotating systems hardware for flight as well as facility applications.
  • Utilizes specialized and unique testing capabilities which include high speed gear fatigue rigs, transmission systems test facilities, and electric drive system testing laboratories.

Structural Dynamics

  • Provides design and analysis, research and development, and test and evaluation engineering products and services to address structural dynamic challenges associated with aerospace systems.
  • Primary work areas involve loads; dynamic modeling; modal analysis and test; analysis and testing of vibration, acoustic, shock, impact, and dynamic environments; development of mitigation strategies for vibration, acoustics, shock, and impact; application and validation of modeling tools to predict response of structures to impact dynamic loading; development of structural concepts and technologies to reduce weight of energy-absorbing structures for aerospace systems including launch vehicles, human and robotic spacecraft, and turbine engine and other propulsion subsystems and components.
  • Modeling capability includes statistical energy and dynamic finite element analysis using multiple tools.
  • Operates the Structural Dynamics Laboratory (SDL), Ballistics Impact Testing Facility (BITF), Dynamic Spin Facility, Acoustical Testing Laboratory (ATL), and Microgravity Emissions Laboratory (MEL).

Structural Mechanics

  • Provides high fidelity structural analysis, optimization, and testing of aerospace structures.
  • Products include stress/deflection, modal, buckling, creep, fatigue and fracture analysis of space flight and ground test hardware; advanced structural analysis of composite structures; and pressure vessel design and analysis.
  • Develops lightweight structural concepts for flight systems and recommends material substitutions.
  • Conducts probabilistic analysis of structural designs.
  • Demonstrates structural integrity and durability of structural components through benchmark testing under multi-axial load conditions at GRC’s Structural Benchmark Testing Facility.
  • Develops new test methodologies for structural components.
  • Manages and operates the Structural Static Test Laboratory to perform strength verification tests, stiffness tests, proof pressure tests, fatigue tests, and benchmark testing for subcomponents and components under multi-axial loads at room and high temperatures.
  • Chairs the Glenn Research Center Fracture Control Working Group (FCWG) and Fastener System Advisory Panel (FSAP).