By Bill Bartel
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is hoping to spark the creation of a public-private partnership involving NASA Langley Research Center and private manufacturers to develop new uses for lightweight, man-made composite materials on aircraft and other products.
Working with NASA officials, he helped organize a two-day, closed-door meeting this week with 24 manufacturers and officials from NASA and other federal agencies in part to talk about a major roadblock - the decades-plus time it takes to develop new composite products and bring them to market.
Lesa Roe, director of the research center, said Tuesday that it's possible that computer modeling and simulation could take the place of some testing and dramatically shorten the time needed for development and federal approval - possibly from 10 or 15 years to three to five.
If that approach is successful, she said, companies could react more quickly as the technology improves.
Composites - already in use for decades in aircraft and automotive manufacturing - are one area where the United States has a strong advantage, Warner said.
"Here's an asset that is creating good intellectual capital in an area where America still has a competitive edge: aviation," he said. "How can we exploit that?"
Among the goals is to convince the private competing companies that it would be beneficial for them to join a public-private effort to share research and collaborate on techniques for faster product development.
Warner said that if the Hampton facility becomes the focal point of the partnership, he hopes it will generate business expansion and jobs nearby.
"The potential upside for the region could be enormous," he said.
The senator said that if the companies agreed and would contribute financially, he could enlist congressional support.
"If there was a consensus from the industry ... or if there was an agreement that we could take their research time from 12 to 15 years to three to five years, that's a case I could make with any of my colleagues that it's worth investing in," he said.