The Aerospace Computational Design Laboratory’s mission is the advancement and application of computational engineering for the design, optimization, and control of aerospace and other complex systems. ACDL research addresses a comprehensive range of topics, including advanced computational fluid dynamics and mechanics, uncertainty quantification, data assimilation and statistical inference, surrogate and reduced modeling, and simulation-based design techniques.
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 unmanned aerial vehicles or formation-flying spacecraft. The research goal is to increase the level of systems' autonomy 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 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.
CSAIL research is focused on developing the architectures and infrastructures of tomorrow’s information technology, and on creating innovations that will yield long-term improvements in how people live and work. Lab members conduct research in almost all aspects of computer science, including artificial intelligence, the theory of computation, systems, machine learning, computer graphics, as well as exploring revolutionary new computational methods for advancing healthcare, manufacturing, energy and human productivity.
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.
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 Interactive Robotics Lab conducts research and develops technology to ease the integration of robotics and autonomous systems into human-centered work environments. This includes the design of algorithms for planning, decision-making, and control of autonomous systems that are modified to support safe, efficient and natural interaction with people. Research applications focuses on high-intensity and safety-critical applications including aerospace manufacturing, disaster response, and space operations.
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 works to understand and quantify the environmental impacts of aviation and related sectors such as transportation and energy. LAE researchers apply their methods to quantify the costs and benefits of operational, regulatory, and technological strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of aviation.
The team is focused on the following fields:
Modeling aviation's past, present, and future climate impacts. The team develops and employs both reduced-order climate modeling tools for technology and policy assessment, and detailed physical models for quantifying the atmospheric impacts of aviation emissions, including contrails and other cloudiness effects that have climate impacts comparable in magnitude to accumulated CO2 emissions from aviation.
Improving our understanding of how aviation has, does, and will impact air quality at the local and global scales. This research spans scales from local questions of dispersion around airports, to the problems of intercontinental pollution plumes and the effects of cruise altitude emissions on ground-level pollution.
Quantifying the environmental impact and economic feasibility of alternative aviation fuels, including biomass and waste-derived fuels. The methods of life cycle and techno-economic assessment (LCA and TEA, respectively) are applied to evaluate conventional and emerging fuel production technologies and inform policy decisions.
Developing and evaluating novel technologies that help mitigate aviation's environmental impacts. Team members are working on technologies such as emissions control devices for gas turbines, the viability of electric aircraft for reducing environmental impacts of aviation, and electroaerodynamic (EAD) thrusters for solid-state propulsion.
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 research group explores new concepts in engineered materials and structures. 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.
Our research goals are to build unmanned vehicles that can fly without GPS through unmapped indoor environments, robots that can drive through unmapped cities, and to build social robots that can quickly learn what people want without being annoying or intrusive. Such robots must be able to perform effectively with uncertain and limited knowledge of the world, be easily deployed in new environments and immediately start autonomous operations with no prior information.
The Space Propulsion Laboratory studies and develops devices and systems for increasing performance, reducing costs, and achieving better understanding of the science of space propulsion. A major area of research is based electric propulsion, in which electrical, rather than chemical energy propels spacecraft. Because of its many advantages, communication satellites and scientific missions are turning to electric propulsion systems. This includes miniaturized electric thrusters that will allow people to do such things as explore in more detail the structure of the universe, increase the lifetime and capability of commercial payloads or look for signs of life in far away places using small and inexpensive spacecraft. Areas of research also include the development of thruster materials and manufacturing techniques, numerical modeling and simulation, orbit optimization and mission design, spacecraft-thruster interactions, and applications in diverse fields, such as plasma assisted combustion and protection of air vehicles against lightning discharges.
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 STAR Laboratory, part of the Space Systems Lab, develops instruments and platforms for observing weather systems on Earth and extraterrestrial planets, and for measuring space weather, the flow of highly energetic particles that originate from our Sun. STAR Lab specializes in weather sensors, space weather (radiation) sensors, and communications systems, precision attitude control systems, and technology demonstrations using shoebox-sized spacecraft known as CubeSats. Weather sensors currently include passive microwave radiometers and Global Positioning System (GPS) radio occultation receivers. Radiation work includes developing scintillators for CubeSats, characterization of radiation sensitivity of common CubeSat electronic components, and development of self-aware algorithms for spacecraft telemetry anomaly detection and performance monitoring. STAR Lab research also focuses on the challenging problem of how to efficiently get collected data from small satellite platforms back down to the ground using high data rate laser communications systems with advanced and miniaturized pointing and tracking capability. STAR Lab research helps us to understand weather systems on Earth and other planets, helps us to predict and prepare for Solar storms, and improves our ability to get data from small space platforms to the data centers and users on the ground.
The SPARK (Sensing, Perception, Autonomy, and Robot Kinetics) Lab, directed by Professor Luca Carlone, works at the bleeding edge of robotics and autonomous systems research for air, space, and ground applications. The lab develops the algorithmic foundations of robotics through the innovative design, rigorous analysis, and real-world testing of algorithms for single and multi-robot systems. A major goal of the lab is to enable human-level perception, world understanding, and navigation on mobile platforms (micro aerial vehicles, self-driving vehicles, ground robots, augmented reality). Core areas of expertise include nonlinear estimation, numerical and distributed optimization, probabilistic inference, graph theory, and computer vision.
SERG studies long-lived systems on Earth and in Space. This includes the design and operation of critical infrastructures such as industrial manufacturing, transportation, earth observation, defense, water, energy and food supply systems as well as the challenges of sustained human and robotic exploration and settlement of outer space. We develop validated models and simulations to support strategic decisions under uncertainty, including selection of technologies and system evolutionary pathways. Sponsors include national science and government agencies such as NASA, DARPA and the U.S. Navy, as well as non-profits and major industrial firms.
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:
Accident causality analysis and accident investigation
Human factors and safety
Integrating safety into the system engineering process
Identifying leading indicators of increasing risk
Certification, regulation, and standards
The role of culture, social, and legal systems on safety
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 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. The current tunnel will cease operations at the end of the Spring 2018 term, and will be dismantled. A new state-of-the-art Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel, which will be the largest and most advanced academic tunnel in the United States, is scheduled to open in 2019.