The Aerospace Computational Design Lab's mission is to improve the design of aerospace systems through the advancement of computational methods and tools that incorporate multidisciplinary analysis and optimization, probabilistic and robust design techniques, and next-generation computational fluid dynamics. The laboratory studies a broad range of topics that focus on the design of aircraft and aircraft engines.
The Aerospace Controls Laboratory investigates estimation and control systems for modern aerospace systems, with particular attention to distributed, multivehicle architectures. Example applications involve cooperating teams of UAVs or formation-flying spacecraft. The research goal is to increase the level of autonomy in these systems by incorporating higher-level decisions, such as vehicle-waypoint assignment and collision avoidance routing, into feedback control systems. Core competencies include optimal estimation and control, optimization for path-planning and operations research, receding-horizon/model predictive control, and GPS.
The Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems group’s mission is the development of theoretical foundations and practical algorithms for real-time control of large-scale systems of vehicles and mobile robots. Application examples range from UAVs and autonomous cars, to air traffic control, and urban mobility.The group researches advanced algorithmic approaches to control high-dimensional, fast, and uncertain dynamical systems subject to stringent safety requirements in a rapidly changing environment. An emphasis is placed on the development of rigorous analysis, synthesis, and verification tools to ensure the correctness of the design. The research approach combines expertise in control theory, robotics, optimization, queueing theory and stochastic systems, with randomized and distributed algorithms, formal languages, machine learning, and game theory.
The Communications and Networking Research Group's primary goal is the design of network architectures that are cost effective, scalable, and meet emerging needs for high data-rate and reliable communications. To meet emerging critical needs for military communications, space exploration, and internet access for remote and mobile users, future aerospace networks will depend upon satellite, wireless and optical components. Satellite networks are essential for providing access to remote locations lacking in communications infrastructure; wireless networks are needed for communication between untethered nodes, such as autonomous air vehicles; and optical networks are critical to the network backbone and in high performance local area networks.
The group is working on a wide range of projects in the area of communication networks and systems, with application to satellite, wireless, and optical systems. In recent years, the group has been developing efficient network control algorithms for heterogeneous wireless networks. Existing wireless networks are almost exclusively confined to single hop access, as provided by cellular telephony or wireless LANs. While multi-hop wireless networks can be deployed, current protocols typically result in extremely poor performance for even moderate sized networks. Wireless Mesh Networks have emerged as a solution for providing last-mile Internet access. However, hindering their success is our relative lack of understanding of how to effectively control wireless networks, especially in the context of advanced physical layer models, realistic models for channel interference, distributed operations, and interface with the wired infrastructure (e.g., internet). CNRG has been developing effective and practical network control algorithms that make efficient use of wireless resources through the joint design of topology adaptation, network layer routing, link layer scheduling, and physical layer power, channel, and rate control.
Robust network design has been another exciting area of recent pioneering research by the group. In particular, the group has been developing a new paradigm for the design of highly robust networks that can survive a massive disruption that may result from natural disasters or intentional attack. The work examines the impact of large-scale failures on network survivability and design, with a focus on interdependencies between different networked infrastructures, such as telecommunication networks, social networks, and the power grid. The group’s research crosses disciplinary boundaries by combining techniques from network optimization, queueing theory, graph theory, network protocols and algorithms, hardware design, and physical layer communications.
The MIT Gas Turbine Laboratory has had a worldwide reputation for research and teaching at the forefront of gas turbine technology for more than 60 years. GTL’s mission is to advance the state-of-the-art in fluid machinery for power and propulsion. The research is focused on advanced propulsion systems, energy conversion and power, with activities in computational, theoretical, and experimental study of: loss mechanisms and unsteady flows in fluid machinery; dynamic behavior and stability of compression systems; instrumentation and diagnostics; advanced centrifugal compressors and pumps for energy conversion; gas turbine engine and fluid machinery noise reduction and aero-acoustics; novel aircraft and propulsion system concepts for reduced environmental impact. Several experimental facilities include: a unique swirling flow test rig for centrifugal compressor diffuser analysis, a 15,000 SCFM continuous supersonic wind tunnel and air supply, a single-stage low-speed research compressor, a 500kW helicopter gas turbine engine test cell, a shock tube for reacting flow heat transfer analysis, and a range of one-of-a-kind experimental flow diagnostics. GTL also has unique computational and theoretical modeling capabilities in the areas of gas turbine fluid mechanics, turbomachinery, and aero-acoustics.
Research in the Humans and Automation Lab focuses on the multifaceted interactions of human and computer decision-making in complex sociotechnical systems. With the explosion of automated technology, the need for humans as supervisors of complex automatic control systems has replaced the need for humans in direct manual control. A consequence of complex, highly automated domains in which the human decision-maker is more on-the-loop than in-the-loop is that the level of required cognition has moved from that of well-rehearsed skill execution and rule following, to higher, more abstract levels of knowledge synthesis, judgment, and reasoning. Employing human-centered design principles to human supervisory control problems, and identifying ways in which humans and computers can leverage the strengths of each other to achieve superior decisions together is HAL's central focus. Current research projects include collaborative human-computer decision making for command and control domains, and investigating human understanding of complex optimization algorithms and visualization of cost (objective functions); uses of adaptive automation and psychophysiologic measures in human supervisory control; decision theoretic modelling for datalink communications; developing metrics for evaluating display complexity; and display design for autonomous formation flying.
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is a U.S. Army University-Affiliated Research Center. Its mission is to improve soldier survivability by extending the frontiers of nanotechnology via fundamental research and transitioning with Army and industrial partners. The ISN's charge is to pursue a long-range vision for how technology can make soldiers less vulnerable to enemy and environmental threats. The ultimate goal is to create a 21st century battlesuit that combines high-tech capabilities with light weight and comfort.
The International Center for Air Transportation undertakes research and educational programs that discover and disseminate the knowledge and tools underlying a global air transportation industry driven by new technologies. Global information systems are central to the future operation of international air transportation. Modern information technology systems of interest to ICAT include: global communication and positioning; international air traffic management; scheduling, dispatch and maintenance support; vehicle management; passenger information and communication; and real-time vehicle diagnostics. Airline operations are also undergoing major transformations.Airline management, airport security, air transportation economics, fleet scheduling, traffic flow management and airport facilities development, represent areas of great interest to the MIT faculty and are of vital importance to international air transportation. ICAT is a physical and intellectual home for these activities. ICAT, and its predecessors, the Aeronautical Systems Laboratory and Flight Transportation Laboratory, pioneered concepts in air traffic management and flight deck automation and displays that are now in common use.
The Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment addresses a major challenge facing the aviation industry today: understanding and reducing aviation’s environmental impacts. The lab advances our knowledge of how aviation impacts the environment and collaboratively develops mitigation strategies.
Current research thrusts are:
- Evaluating the climate and air quality impacts of aircraft emissions. This includes quantifying the impact of airport emissions on near-airport air quality, aircraft cruise emissions on global air quality, and contrails on regional climate.
- Developing tools to enable designers, policymakers, and researchers to evaluate policy and design decision’s environmental implications, including a quantitative understanding of uncertainty. These tools are used to inform international policy negotiations.
- Environmentally optimizing both ground and en route operations. Examples include developing and testing procedures for minimizing ground fuel burn, computing the air quality impacts of controller decisions in real-time, and developing metrics for the environmental performance of aircraft.
- Assessing potential alternative jet fuels that can reduce adverse climate and air quality impacts. This involves assessing the lifecycle environmental impacts of alternative fuel production and use, as well as broader environmental and economic implications.
Among other activities, the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment hosts the headquarters of the Partnership for Air Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER) – an FAA Center of Excellence with participation from 12 universities and 50 industry and government organizations.
The Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems is an interdepartmental research laboratory. It began in 1939 as the Servomechanisms Laboratory, an offshoot of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Its early work, during World War II, focused on gunfire and guided missile control, radar, and flight trainer technology. Over the years, the scope of its research broadened.
Today, LIDS' fundamental research goal is to advance the field of systems, communications and control. In doing this, it recognizes the interdependence of these fields and the fundamental role that computation plays in this research. LIDS conducts basic theoretical studies in communication and control and is committed to advancing the state of knowledge of technologically important areas such as atmospheric optical communications and multivariable robust control. Its staff includes faculty members, full-time research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate research assistants, and support personnel. Every year several research scientists from various parts of the world visit the Laboratory to participate in its research program.
The Man Vehicle Laboratory optimizes human-vehicle system safety and effectiveness by improving understanding of human physiological and cognitive capabilities, and developing appropriate countermeasures and evidence-based engineering design criteria. Research is interdisciplinary, and uses techniques from manual and supervisory control, signal processing, estimation, sensory-motor physiology, sensory and cognitive psychology, biomechanics, human factor engineering, artificial intelligence, and biostatistics. MVL has flown experiments on Space Shuttle Spacelab missions and parabolic flights, and has several flight experiments in development for the International Space Station. NASA, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and the FAA sponsor ground-based research. Projects focus on advanced space suit design and dynamics of astronaut motion, adaptation to rotating artificial gravity environments, spatial disorientation and navigation, teleoperation, design of aircraft and spacecraft displays and controls and cockpit human factors. Annual MVL MIT Independent Activities Period activities include ski safety research, and an introductory course on Boeing 767 systems and automation. MVL faculty also teach subjects in human factors engineering, space systems engineering, space policy, flight simulation, space physiology, aerospace biomedical and life support engineering, and the physiology of human spatial orientation.
The necstlab (pronounced "next lab") research group explores new concepts in engineered materials and structures, and is directed by Prof. Wardle in the Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. The group's mission is to lead the advancement and application of new knowledge at the forefront of materials and structures understanding, with research contributions in both science and engineering. Applications of interest include enhanced (aerospace) advanced composites, multifunctional attributes of structures such as damage sensing, and also microfabricated (MEMS) topics. A significant effort over the past decade has been to use nanoscale materials to to enhance performance of advanced aerospace materials and their structures through the industry supported NECST Consortium.
The Space Propulsion Laboratory, part of the Space Systems Lab, studies and develops systems for increasing performance and reducing costs of space propulsion. A major area of interest to lab is electric propulsion, in which the electrical, rather than chemical energy propels spacecraft. The benefits are numerous and very important, that is the reason why many communication satellites and scientific missions are turning to electric propulsion systems. In the future these plasma engines will allow people to do such things as explore in more detail the structure of the universe, increase the lifetime of commercial payloads or look for signs of life in far away places. Other areas of research include microfabrication; numerical simulation, numerical simulation, Hall thrusters, space tethers, orbit optimization, spacecraft-thruster interactions and plasma waves emission and propagation.
The Space Systems Laboratory engages in cutting-edge research projects with the goal of directly contributing to the current and future exploration and development of space. SSL's mission is to explore innovative concepts for the integration of future space systems and to train a generation of researchers and engineers conversant in this field. Specific tasks include developing the technology and systems analysis associated with small spacecraft, precision optical systems, and International Space Station technology research and development. The laboratory encompasses expertise in structural dynamics, control, thermal, space power, propulsion, microelectromechanical systems, software development and systems. Major activities in this laboratory are the development of small spacecraft thruster systems (see the Space Propulsion Laboratory) and researching issues associated with the distribution of function among satellites. In addition, technology is being developed for spaceflight validation in support of a new class of space-based telescopes that exploit the physics of interferometry to achieve dramatic breakthroughs in angular resolution.
The Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) advances the theories, methods, and effective practice of systems engineering applied to complex socio-technical systems through collaborative research. Four key areas of research are: 1) Socio-Technical Decision Making, which seeks to develop multi-disciplinary representations, analysis methods, and techniques for improving decision making for socio-technical systems; 2) Designing for Value Robustness, which seeks to develop methods for concept exploration, architecting and design using a dynamic perspective for the purpose of realizing systems, products, and services that deliver sustained value to stakeholders in a changing world; 3) Systems Engineering Economics, which seeks to develop an economics view of systems engineering to achieve measurable and predictable outcomes while delivering value to stakeholders; 4) Systems Engineering in the Enterprise, which involves empirical studies and case-based research for the purpose of understanding how to achieve more effective systems engineering practice taking into account the nature of the system being developed, external context, and the characteristics of the associated enterprise.
The research group has a strong foundation in the aerospace system design and architecture domain, with more recent work branching into the transportation and infrastructure systems domains. While these domains represent past work and ongoing areas for case study analysis, the methods and practices developed by SEAri aim for cross-domain applicability.
The System Architecture Lab studies the early-stage technical decisions that will determine the majority of the system's performance. SAL has helped architect systems from earth observation networks, to lunar surface exploration vehicles. The lab’s key contention is that by identifying the most important initial technical decisions and exhaustively enumerating their options, the best potential designs are identified prior to the detailed design activities. SAL work stands in contrast to a traditional trade-study perspective, where two to four points designs are compared, without reference to the intervening options or to a fully explored tradespace. The emerging field of System Architecture aims to understand what patterns emerge across disparate domains, to gain an understanding of the making of good architecture. System architecture models look broadly across possible technologies, subsystems, and use contexts. Although each model employs problem-specific parametrics, SAL has advanced the state of the art by developing unique and generalizable approach to structuring complex systems architecting problems that can be applied across disciplines.
The increasingly complex systems we are building today enable us to accomplish tasks that were previously difficult or impossible. At the same time, they have changed the nature of accidents and increased the potential to harm not only life today but also future generations. Traditional system safety engineering approaches, which started in the missile defense systems of the 1950s, are being challenged by the introduction of new technology and the increasing complexity of the systems we are attempting to build. Software is changing the causes of accidents and the humans operating these systems have a much more difficult job than simply following pre-defined procedures. We can no longer effectively separate engineering design from human factors and from the social and organizational system in which our systems are designed and operated.
The goal of the Laboratory for Systems Safety Research is to create new tools and processes that will allow us to engineer a safer world. Engineering safer systems requires multi-disciplinary and collaborative research based on sound system engineering principles, that is, it requires a holistic systems approach. LSSR has participants from multiple engineering disciplines and MIT schools as well as collaborators at other universities and in other countries. Current students are working on safety in aviation (aircraft and air transportation systems), spacecraft, medical devices and healthcare, automobiles, railroads, nuclear power, defense systems, energy, and large manufacturing/process facilities. Cross-discipline topics include:
- Hazard analysis
- Accident causality analysis and accident investigation
- Safety-guided design
- Human factors and safety
- Integrating safety into the system engineering process
- dentifying leading indicators of increasing risk
- Certification, regulation, and standards
- The role of culture, social, and legal systems on safety
The Technology Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Structures (TELAMS), known since its establishment as TELAC, has been dedicated to providing leadership in the advancement of the knowledge and capabilities of the composites and structures community through education of students, original research, and interaction with the community at large. This leadership continues today at TELAMS, with an emphasis on composite materials, as the research topics span a wide spectrum, from basic understanding of composite materials to their behavior in specific structural configurations, with the ultimate objective of gaining a sufficient understanding of the properties of a composite laminate's basic building block, and how these properties interact to determine properties of laminates and structures made of composite materials. Recently, the focus of the laboratory has broadened into other areas, and thus its renaming. These areas include multi-scale modeling and simulation of the mechanics of advanced materials used in the aerospace industry with emphasis on understanding the influence of micro-structural features of deformation and failure in their effective engineering response, computational modeling in solid mechanics and fluid-structure interaction problems, and design, fabrication, and testing of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), along with their associated materials and processes.
Since 1938, MIT's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel has played a major role in the development of aerospace, civil engineering and architectural systems. In recent years, faculty research interests generated long-range studies of unsteady airfoil flow fields, jet engine inlet-vortex behavior, aeroelastic tests of unducted propeller fans, and panel methods for tunnel wall interaction effects. Industrial testing has included helicopter antenna pods, and in-flight trailing cables, stationary and vehicle mounted ground antenna configurations, the aeroelastic dynamics of airport control tower configurations, Olympic ski gear, space suits, racing bicycles, subway station entrances, and Olympic rowing shells, and power-generating wind turbines.
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