11:45 AM

Universities Space Research Association Selected as One of Five Organizations to Mitigate Environmental Impact of Aviation

Mountain View, CA and Washington, DC—August 31, 2023. Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is proud to announce its selection as one of the organizations chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) to develop new pioneering technologies and tools aimed at reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

Photo of Airbus A340 jet contrails, over London, England. Image Credit: Adrian Pingstone

The contrails of an Airbus A340 jet, over London, England. Image Credit: Adrian Pingstone

Condensation trails—commonly known as contrails—occur when aircraft exhaust water mixes with cold, surrounding humid air at high altitude. Under certain specific atmospheric conditions, engine exhaust can cause the formation of long-lived contrails. These can result in persistent clouds known as aircraft-induced cirrus (AIC). Studies indicate AIC likely contributes to changes in the atmosphere at a level that is roughly equivalent to that of the CO2 emissions from the entire aviation sector, or about two percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

As part of this project, Universities Space Research Association will develop a real-time aviation contrail prediction and observation system that will improve airspace operations through new atmospheric data services and ensemble modeling approaches. This revolutionary system will advance an existing cutting-edge contrail computer model with a novel machine learning approach to produce forecasts of persistent contrail-forming regions. USRA has partnered with the Aeronautics Directorate of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and the Science Directorate of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for the project.

Dr. David Bell, Director, USRA’s Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) and Principal Investigator for this project, expressed enthusiasm stating, “We are thrilled to be part of this national effort sponsored by ARPA-E to significantly reduce climate impacts of aviation contrails through use of physics and machine-learning algorithms.”

Under the aegis of the Predictive Real-time Emissions Technologies Reducing Aircraft Induced Lines in the Sky (PRE-TRAILS) Exploratory Topic, ARPA-E has allocated $10 million in funding to support five exceptional projects to develop diagnostics and predictive tools needed to enable effective mitigation of climate implications linked to contrails. 

The other organizations selected to mitigate the environmental impact of aviation include:

  • GE Research (Niskayuna, NY)
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation (Redondo Beach, CA)
  • RTX Technologies Research Center (East Hartford, CT)
  • The Boeing Company (Everett, WA)



About USRA

Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance aeronautics and space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu.