NASA created the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project to
explore and document the feasibility, benefits and technical risk of
vehicle concepts and enabling technologies that will reduce the impact
of aviation on the environment.
Current-generation aircraft already benefit from NASA investments in
aeronautical research that have yielded improved fuel efficiencies,
lowered noise levels and reductions in harmful emissions. Although
substantial progress has been made, much more needs to be done.
The nation's air transportation system is expected to expand
significantly within the next two decades. Clearly there is a potential
adverse impact from this expansion on the environment. The ERA Project
invests in technologies with the potential to neutralize or reduce
negative environmental impacts.
The project's primary goals are to:
The ERA Project contains three subprojects: Airframe Technology,
Propulsion Technology and Vehicle Systems Integration.
- Explore and mature alternative unconventional aircraft designs with
the potential to simultaneously meet mid-term goals (5-10 years) for
community noise, fuel burn and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions as
described in the National Aeronautics Research and Development Plan
- Determine the potential impact of these alternate aircraft designs
and technologies if successfully implemented into the air transportation
- Determine the potential impact of these technologies on advanced
Major research challenges include:
Specifically, the ERA Project will invest in:
- Documenting the feasibility, benefits and technical risks of vehicle concepts;
- Determining the certification hurdles and implications of new technologies and configurations;
- Exploring the performance characteristics of design concepts for aircraft that could enter service by 2025; and
- Enlarging the viable trade space—the degree to which performance objectives can be traded against each other to achieve best value—to assist industry in designing and building environmentally efficient vehicles for commercial aviation.
Work within the ERA Project is coordinated with system-level research
performed by other programs within NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission
Directorate as well as other federal government agencies. The ERA
Project will disseminate all of its research results to the widest
- Testing unconventional aircraft configurations that improve fuel efficiency through higher lift-to-drag ratio, more efficient propulsion systems and lower weight designs;
- Developing technologies that reduce noise around airports and reduce NOx emissions;
- Assessing the ability of technologies such as laminar flow, composite structures and fuel-flexible combustors to achieve project goals.
NASA has also put mechanisms in place to engage academia and industry,
including working groups and technical interchange meetings; Space Act
Agreements for cooperative partnerships; and the NASA Research
Announcement process that provides for full and open competition for the
best and most promising research ideas.