NASA Research Park

NASA Research Park

NASA Research Park is a research park run by NASA which aims to develop a world-class, shared-use research and development campus in association with government entities, academia, industry and non-profit organisations. It is situated in near San Jose, California. It began in 1939 as Ames Research Center and was instrumental in the development and research of flight and space travel. In the 1990s it was developed into the research park it is today.


Ames Research Center

The U.S. Congress originally established Ames Research Center (Ames) in 1939 as the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory under the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Ames eventually grew to occupy approximately 500 acres (2.0 km2) at Moffett Field adjacent to the Naval Air Station Moffett Field in Santa Clara County, California, in the center of the region that would, in the 1990s, become known worldwide as Silicon Valley. In 1958, Congress created NASA with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, 42 U.S.C. § 2451 et seq. The Ames Aeronautical Laboratory was renamed Ames Research Center and became a NASA field center.

Ames is nearing 70 years of age, which it calls “Seven Decades of Innovation,” highlighted with major accomplishments in aeronautics and space. From the 1940s through the 1990s, Ames scientists and engineers demonstrated excellence in flight research in many areas including variable stability aircraft, guidance and control displays, boundary-layer control, vertical and short takeoff and landing aircraft, and rotorcraft. Ames developed the swept wing design and the conical camber, now considered in the design of every supersonic aircraft.

Ames developed and operated critical facilities including flight simulators and wind tunnels, pushing the frontiers of computers and the arcjets facility to test materials at very high temperatures, which were critical to high-speed aircraft development and space vehicle re-entry. Ames largest contribution to the early space program for human missions was solving the problem of getting astronauts safely back to Earth, through the development of the blunt body design for re-entry vehicles.

Ames assisted the development of Apollo, developed and operated the Pioneer Missions (the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belts, observe Jupiter and Saturn and Venus), and developed the tiltrotor aircraft. The diversity of accomplishments led to the focus in the 1990s on Ames becoming the high-tech center of NASA. In those days in NASA parlance, Ames became the Center of Excellence for Information Technologies, taking the lead in human centered computing, a major interdisciplinary effort to develop means of optimizing the performance of mixed human and computer systems. These new technologies were critical for both aeronautics and space operations with ground-based operators, astronauts (or pilots/controllers in the air traffic management system) and robots functioning collaboratively to maximize mission science return, productivity and safety. This human centered computing focus developed the expertise for Ames to become the lead for all supercomputing in NASA, and in 2005 Ames operated the world’s fastest supercomputer, partnered with SGI and Intel.

In the 1990s, following its historic excellence in life and space sciences, Ames developed a focused new program called Astrobiology to search for the origins of life in the universe. Ames leads NASA’s Kepler Mission, a spacecraft designed to find Earth-sized planets in other galaxies that may be in or near habitable zones, distances from a star where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Ames developed SOFIA, the new Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, using a Boeing 747 aircraft that will study the universe for the next twenty years in the infrared spectrum.

Concurrent with the outstanding innovations in science and technology, Ames has become the leader in NASA for innovative partnerships with universities and industry, both onsite and in distance collaborations. The opportunity for this new partnering became available in the early 1990s, with the potential for R&D partners to move into the property obtained from the transfer of Navy Moffett Field land to NASA.

From its establishment in 1939, Ames shared the land generally known as Moffett Field with the United States Navy, jointly using the major airfield on the property. In the 1930s the Navy developed Moffett Field originally for the home of the famous “Lighter than Air Era of American Military History,” housing and operating large-scale airships. Through the years a number of different military organizations, including the United States Air Force, used the Moffett Field facilities, and in the late 1980s the Navy operated the base.

With the enactment of the Base Realignment and Closure Act in 1991, Congress directed the Navy to close and vacate the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field. Under the framework of the Federal Property Administrative Services Act of 1949, 40 U.S.C. §471, NASA successfully negotiated custody of most of the Navy property, with the strong support of the local governments surrounding Moffett Field and the U.S. Congressmen from the area, especially Rep. Norman Mineta. The decision was properly approved through the federal government process to transfer the property to NASA and disestablish the Naval Air Station Moffett Field. The United States Department of Defense decided to retain control of 57 hectares (140 acres) of military housing at Moffett Field. In 1994, the Department of the Navy transferred approximately 600 hectares (1,500 acres) to NASA. This transfer created a unique opportunity for NASA to provide stewardship for the entire 800-hectare (2,000 acre) site, except the military housing.

Prior to obtaining control of Moffett Field, NASA prepared the Moffett Field Comprehensive Use Plan (CUP) to implement its management program for the newly expanded Ames. An Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact accompanied the plan. The EA established under the CUP allows for the development of up to approximately 102,000 square meters (1.1 million square feet) of new construction.

The transfer of Moffett Field to Ames supplied the impetus to consider various new uses of the property for NASA’s benefit. Ames leaders began discussions with federal, state and community leaders for potential reuse ideas.

NASA Research Park

In November 1996, the neighboring cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale formed the Community Advisory Committee to study and provide input to Ames about the best reuses of Moffett Field. Ames developed a six-point initiative, which outlined program goals and reuse concepts for the development of the former Navy base that basically focused on university and industry building on NASA property as R&D collaborative partners. In 1997, after extensive public outreach and public meetings, the final report advisory committee endorsed NASA’s six-point initiative, which established the plans to develop what became the NASA Research Park.

Ames leaders reviewed studies of research parks worldwide and continued to work with the neighboring communities in preparing its preferred development plan. In 1998, Ames and the cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View signed a memorandum of understanding to work jointly on development. Also, a number of major universities were involved in planning their potential roles in development. In mid-1998, Ames leaders presented their plan to NASA HQ and secured approval to proceed.

On December 8, 1998, NASA unveiled its visionary concept for a shared-use R&D and education campus for collaborations among government, industry, academia and non-profit organizations at a national press conference with NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. Over the next year, MOUs for planning development were signed with the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, San Jose State University and Foothill-DeAnza Community College.

In addition to federal, state and community leaders’ inputs, Ames worked closely with a number of economic development and industry organizations in focused groups by industry: information technology, bio-technology and others to understand the needs of Silicon Valley high-tech industry. In 1999, this vision was outlined in an Economic Development Concept Workbook, which won the 2000 American Planning Association Award.


NASA’s goal is to develop a world-class, shared-use research and development campus in association with government entities, academia, industry and nonprofits. The NADP/EIS provides a framework to guide the use, renovation, management and development of facilities at Ames over the next 20 years to achieve that goal. The NRP supports NASA’s overall mission in three areas: advancing NASA’s research leadership; facilitating science and technology education; and creating a unique community of researchers, students and educators.

NASA’s recent vision and mission statements recognize that not from NASA alone, not from industry alone and not from universities alone will tomorrow’s innovations emerge. They will come from the integration of these different segments, each making the most of their unique attributes—NASA’s focus on high-risk, long-term research; industry’s ability to react quickly with applied technologies; and the universities’ expertise in educating and providing a vibrant workforce for the future.

The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) announced in 2004 requires NASA to reach out and partner with all kinds of relevant organizations to sustain the long-term vision. The NRP has and is continuing to bring together outstanding diverse partners, assisting the pursuit of the VSE and other NASA programs. Through the interaction of academia, industry and nonprofit organizations at a robust federal laboratory, a unique community of researchers, students and educators with a shared mission to advance human knowledge will be created. This is the goal of the NRP.

Ames Core Technology Areas

The Business Plan reviewed current partners and suggested future partners based on the core technology areas being pursued by Ames. Current and future NRP partners will contribute to breakthroughs in the areas in which NASA and Ames possess traditional competencies, such as aeronautics, air transportation management, robotics and information technology. While these core areas consist of technologies that are relatively mature, they require further advancement to enable the next generation of space flight and air travel. The development of these technologies is a key driver behind NASA’s mission; as such Ames will seek to create partnerships that support these areas as described below.

Small Spacecraft Systems

Ames has pioneered the concept of small spacecraft and their potential for accelerating NASA’s progress in exploring the moon and solar system. By inserting a mix of microsatellites and miniature landers into NASA’s existing plans for robotic lunar exploration, the agency will be able to make great strides in a shorter timeframe and at a modest cost.

In May 2006, NASA’s Exploration Systems Directorate assigned Ames the responsibility for developing small spacecraft missions to support agency exploration goals. Underlying this decision was the expectation that many of NASA’s goals could be achieved with targeted, low-cost proposals in the $50 to $100 million range—much lower than traditional NASA missions.

The success of this program will depend in part upon partnerships with industry. Increased collaboration with the NRP’s university-led Center for Robotics and Space Exploration (CREST) will aid in the development of specific concepts for future small spacecraft missions, and will accelerate the advancement of the supporting technology for these missions.

Closer relationships among NASA, industry partners, and academic institutions will allow for a degree of progress in this area that would otherwise be impossible. Adaptation to the scale of small, low-cost missions will be difficult for both NASA and industry, but can be achieved in short order in a collaborative environment. Furthermore, partners, such as Google, may contribute non-traditional yet valuable expertise to the venture of developing computer systems for the new low-cost payloads.

One of the NRP partners, m2mi (machine-to-machine intelligence) developed the third ever in NASA, Cooperative Research and Development Agreement or CRADA, that will combine their unique capabilities in software technology, sensors, Global Systems awareness, adaptive control and commercialization capabilities with Ames’ expertise in nanosensors, wireless networks and nanosatellite technologies to develop a Fifth Generation (5G) (VOIP-Video-Data-Wireless-m2mi) telecommunications system. A large number of these nanosats (a constellation) will be placed in low earth orbit (LEO) to provide the first ever, Fifth Generation (5G) Telecommunications system to enable Internet Protocol (IP) based services to the global user community.

Intelligent Adaptive Systems and Robotics

The next generation of space exploration systems will require a much greater degree of system intelligence than is currently available. The ability of systems to engage in autonomous decision making and to adapt to changes in the environment will enable NASA to expand its operations in austere environments, reduce costs of operations, and increase safety. NASA and Ames have been leaders in the development of these kinds of systems. However, by leveraging the base of knowledge in the commercial world, and by working with partners at the cutting edge of this technology, NASA can advance its science base in automated learning, intelligent execution and adaptive control beyond what is currently possible. There is great potential with Carnegie Mellon University’s expertise in this area along with many Silicon Valley businesses.

Integrated Next Generation Computer Systems

NASA’s spacecraft, landers, and other exploration systems are heavily reliant upon computers, sensors and information technology. By partnering with the top firms in these areas, Ames will be better positioned to integrate these technologies into future NASA architectures. Google, Cisco, and Apprion are examples of companies currently in negotiation with Ames, and could add a great deal of value to this area once brought on board. Other potential partners include Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Intel, AMD, and a host of other IT firms located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Materials Science and Thermal Protection Systems (TPS)

Ames has played a significant role in the development of the TPS system for the Space Shuttle and possesses the baseline capabilities needed to develop systems for future spacecraft. NASA can greatly benefit by reaching out to partners beyond the pool of traditional suppliers of orbital thermal protection technology. For example, Ames will reach out to major chemical companies such as Dow Chemical, Du-Pont and BASF, to involve them in the search for next-generation heat shielding solutions. Such collaboration will greatly enhance the pool of talent available to advance technology in this area, and will advance the technology for future space transportation systems. In addition, nanotechnology materials development has great potential in the NRP as a number of companies and universities are interested, including the UCSC planned construction of a new Bio-Info-Nano R&D Lab.

Human Factors and Life Sciences

To ensure the highest degree of safety and efficiency, future space exploration will require a greater understanding of the impact of low and zero-gravity environments upon human physiology. The effects of prolonged exposure to the low-gravity of the moon, for example, will challenge the ability of future explorers to maintain a significant lunar presence. As a result, NASA must continue to charge forward in developing technology and processes that overcome this challenge. Areas of current collaboration in the NRP include advanced muscle augmentation and bone density growth. Ames is currently working with NRP partners Changene and Tibion to advance these technologies. Ames has also been working with firms such as Bigelow and Hamilton Standard on water filtration devices for use on board future spacecraft or orbital habitats. The San Francisco Bay Area hosts over one-third of the world’s biotech companies and discussions are underway with the potential for a biotech cluster in the NRP.

Public partners


On September 30, 2005, NASA and Google announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a national press conference to pursue R&D collaborations with Ames in the areas of: large-scale data management; massively distributed computing; Bio-Info-Nano Convergence; and R&D activities to encourage the entrepreneurial space industry and plan to build 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) of new facilities. In 2006, NASA and Google signed a major Space Act Agreement for Research and Development Collaboration with planned continuing new R&D annexes being added. In 2007, Google announced their Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth.

University of California Santa Cruz

UCSC has been a planned major partner in the research park from inception. Originally, UCSC selected the park as the preferred site for their new Silicon Valley Center and signed a MOU in December 1998 announcing their plan to join. In 2000, UCSC signed a Letter of Intent with NASA to build approximately 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2) of new office space, R&D labs, and classrooms. UCSC currently leases approximately 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) and conducts R&D onsite.

Airship Ventures

Airship Ventures Inc., founded 2007 in Los Gatos, California, is a privately owned corporation formed with the objective of bringing Zeppelin NT airships to the United States for commercial air tours, scientific payloads, media and advertising operations. The Zeppelin NT07 airship, carrying up to 12 passengers, will be the largest airship flying in the U.S. At 246 feet (75 m) in length, it is more than 50 ft (15 m) longer than the largest blimp. Using helium for lift, the Zeppelin NT has been flying with an unparalleled safety record since 1997 in Germany and Japan. Airship Ventures and Ames are in negotiations for their lease of airfield and facility use.

Environmental issues

The Navy has the responsibility to remediate the PCB hazard in the metal outer structure of the building. The Navy is in the public process of analyzing their recommended approach. The plan is that through the Navy or other means, this dynamic 360,000 square feet (33,000 m2) historic icon of the South Bay Area can be saved and utilized for a public purpose.

Parts of the research park lands are on a superfund site. However, NASA studies have shown that the lands are still usable and only require a particular type of construction.

External links


  1. National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, 42 U.S.C. § 2451 et seq.
  2. “Seven Decades of Innovation” Ames Research Center, by NASA Ames historian Jack Boyd
  3. NASA Ames Research Center. NASA Ames Research Center Economic Development Concept Workbook, June 1999
  4. National Academies Press (2001)

“A Review of the New Initiatives at the NASA Ames Research Center: A Summary of a Workshop” Authors: Charles W. Wessner, Editor, Steering Committee for Government-Industry Partnership for the Development of New Technologies, Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, National Research Council

  1. NASA Ames Development Plan 2002, NASA Ames Research Center
  2. DCE, 2002. NASA Ames Development Plan, Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, NASA Ames Research Center, Design, Community, and Environment, July 2002.
  3. Real Property Policysite, Best Practices Special Edition Fall 2003, General Services Administration Office of Governmentwide Policy
  4. Enhanced Use Leasing statute, H.J.RES.2

Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate) ENHANCED-USE LEASE OF REAL PROPERTY DEMONSTRATION

  1. NASA Strategic Plan 2007
  2. Vision for Space Exploration, announced by President Bush, press release Office of the Press Secretary, “President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration,” January 14, 2004.
  3. Explore Space, NASA Research Park Business Plan 2007

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