Nov 24, 2010 (07:11 AM EST)
NASA Awards $6 Million To Develop 'Green' Aircraft

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NASA has awarded nearly $6 million in contracts aimed at developing airliners that can fly cleaner, consume less fuel, and create less noise pollution.

The contracts -- $2.99 million for Lockheed Martin and $2.65 million to Northrop Grumman -- are effective for the next 12 months, according to the agency. NASA hopes to develop concepts for airliners that could go into service by 2025.

NASA is an agency in transition. While it will continue to focus on manned spaceflight even after the Space Shuttle program ends early next year, it also is turning its attention to using research and technology to solve problems on Earth that have global benefits.

Exploring cleaner technology for airliners fits into the agency's strategy to delve deeper into green technology and climate-change research as an expansion of its mission.

The objectives for the teams are to come up with technology that integrates goals NASA has set for noise, emissions, and fuel-burn reduction into a single aircraft. The airliner also must be able to operate safely within a modernized air-traffic control system, the agency said.

Specifically, the teams will develop a concept for an aircraft that can fly as fast as 85% of the speed of sound and cover about 7,000 miles. The plane also should be able to carry between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of passengers and/or cargo, according to NASA.

The Lockheed team will work out of Palmdale, Calif., while Northrop engineers in El Segundo, Calif., will perform its part of the work.

NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project is sponsoring the study. The project is part of the Integrated Systems Research Program managed by the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.

The project's aim is to develop technology that would enable future aircraft to burn 50% less fuel than the ones currently in service and reduce harmful emissions by 50%. Cutting by 83% the geographic space affected by the noise of current commercial airliners also is a goal of the project.