Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap Profile: NIA

The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) is a non-profit research and graduate education institute created to conduct leading-edge aerospace and atmospheric research, develop new technologies, and inspire future scientists and engineers. The Institute is located in Hampton and was formed in 2002 by a consortium of leading research universities from along the East Coast, the majority of which are Virginia universities. NIA's purpose is four-fold:
  • To conduct research and foster collaborations among national laboratories, academia, and commercial partners that stimulate creativity and innovation;
  • To provide comprehensive graduate and continuing education in science and engineering via local campus presence and distance learning technologies;
  • To incubate and stimulate the commercialization of new intellectual property developed through NIA's research activities; and
  • To promote aerospace science and engineering and provide outreach to the region and the nation.

A strategic partner of NASA Langley Research Center and the aerospace industry, NIA conducts research and outreach programs amounting to $30 million in annual revenue. Its collaborative research areas include aeronautical sciences; aerospace systems; airspace management and systems; atmospheric science; computational sciences, modeling, and simulation; materials science and structures; nanotechnology; planetary and space sciences; sensors, actuators, and photovoltaics; signals, controls, and adaptive systems; and unmanned aerospace systems. NIA's research portfolio includes wake vortex migration and human factors engineering supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). NIA's academic partners provide expertise in numerous disciplines, including: aerospace; mechanical, electrical, and system engineering; applied mathematics; and materials science.

Technology Strengths and Strategic Priorities

Technology Sectors Focus

Within the sectors / sub-sectors identified in the Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap, NIA is actively conducting research programs in:

  • Advanced Manufacturing, including unmanned vehicles, robotics, remote monitoring and sensing, surface engineering, chemicals, advanced materials, and nanotechnology
  • Aerospace, including aerodynamics, aeromechanics, sonic boom, control systems, advanced materials technologies, launch vehicles, space exploration, planetary entry, systems engineering and analysis, and computational methods
  • Environment, including atmospheric sciences and global climate change
  • Modeling and Simulation, including computational fluid dynamics, computational structural dynamics, and computational materials at molecular and atomic levels
  • Transportation, including FAA NextGen, intelligent transportation systems, and aviation safety

Examples of specific research at NIA include the areas of boron nitride nanotube (BNNT) growth, uncertainty quantification management (UQM), and application of carbon nanotubes (CNNT) to structures. Additional areas of focus include energy harvesting and computational aerosciences.

NIA has a world-class, one-of-a-kind program and facility to support BNNT research. NIA offers a laboratory housing a new 2.5 kilowatt laser, a 1000 psi custom-made reaction chamber, and spectrometry equipment provided by NASA to explore and understand the physics and kinetics of the formation of the BNNTs.

NIA is engaged in multiple unmanned systems activities, including CERTAIN (City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation), a program focused on creating a test and evaluation environment for unmanned and autonomous flight systems. NIA and NASA Langley researchers are collaborating to plan, implement, and conduct CERTAIN, with the objective of using infrastructure at NASA Langley to promote urban / suburban / industrial scenario testing of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a safe, reliable, repeatable, and relevant test environment. Additional flight locations are also being developed external to NASA Langley.

NIA researchers are also involved in the design, build, instrumentation, sensor suite integration, and flight testing of small UAS airframes for a variety of airframe, acoustics, sensors, and battery life research investigations. Also in place at NIA is the Alexander Brown Center for Adaptive Aerospace Technology (ABCAAT). The focus of ABCAAT is on aerospace applications of smart materials and adaptive structures, primarily for UAVs. Research in the Center is focused on achieving the successful flight of aerial robots for use in the private sector. Expected applications for these robotic vehicles include: search and rescue missions, firefighting, reconnaissance, and aerospace exploration. The development of ornithopters, aerial vehicles that operate with flapping wings, is a significant feature of the work being conducted in ABCAAT.

Key Assets

To support in-house research and its commercialization, the Institute opened the NIA Research and Innovation Laboratories in April 2012. The Labs are a collaborative effort with Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth of Virginia; the City of Hampton donated land for the 58,000 square foot, three-story facility. The Labs host the BNNT lab and other labs for research conducted by NIA researchers and S.P. Langley Distinguished Faculty from the member universities, visiting faculty from member and other institutions, partners, and small companies.

Entrepreneurship Opportunities

Entrepreneurship is also an NIA priority. As such, the Research and Innovation Laboratories are also the home of the Peninsula Technology Incubator, a wholly owned subsidiary of NIA established in 2012 through a grant from the City of Hampton and additional grants from the Small Business Administration, Economic Development Authority, and other area organizations. The Incubator hosts technology companies and encourages research staff and professors to turn their research and intellectual property into companies. Today the Incubator has 12 technology-related companies, three of which are focused on aerospace sensors and UAVs. By the beginning of 2016, NIA expects up to 16 companies will be established at the Incubator. Also through the Incubator, NIA is establishing a seed fund to invest in the area's emerging, high-potential, aerospace-related companies.

In addition, the Institute will continue advancing research by expanding commercial partnerships and contract research, establishing additional research centers and brand areas and bringing in outside faculty in these areas, securing funding from external sources, and establishing collaboration in priority areas.