Cost saving app at Langley wins NASA award

NASA has formally recognized a development team at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., for an in-house, money-saving aerodynamic analysis application.

The application, called the Tetrahedral Unstructured Software System won the agency's Software of the Year Award. The award, a component of NASA's Space Act Invention Awards Program, recognizes software developed by employees.

Although commercial companies now offer fluid dynamics and aerodynamics analysis software'though none existed when the group first started the project'no one commercial application specifically suits NASA's needs, said Craig Hunter, a NASA aerospace engineer who helped developed the software.

'The main benefit is that it is an in-house code, and so it is easy for us to add capabilities and make modifications,' Hunter said.

Another benefit is cost. Langley uses the software on more than 300 computers.

'I don't know if we even could afford the licensing if we used the commercial software with that many computers,' Hunter said.

This win is the software developers' second from the agency. The program was first recognized in 1996. The nine-member development team, seven of them from Langley, will split the $40,000 award.

The program was originally written for the Irix operating system that runs SGI workstations. This year's award recognizes the work the team did to port the application to the Apple Macintosh platform. The agency has saved money in that it can purchase machines from Apple Computer Inc. instead of more expensive SGI workstations. Hunter said that, for this application, Macs can provide nearly the same performance at nearly an eighth of the hardware cost.

The Macintosh port also cuts down on the total number of computers Langley must purchase and support, because Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office and other widely used programs are available for the Mac OS platform.

'We used to have two computers on [each engineer's] desk, an SGI and some sort of PC. Now we're able to get down to one computer and do everything,' Hunter said.

Besides NASA, other government agencies, academia and private industry use the application. The agency has counted more than 575 users. The software is free to individuals within the United States, though they must fill out an application and go through a background check.

'The purpose [of the software] is to simulate aerodynamics over aerospace vehicles. Basically, we want to get the same information that we'd get from a wind tunnel or a flight test, but doing it with a computer simulation, which is quicker and cheaper,' Hunter said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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