Collier Research Corporation is one of the world's leading engineering software providers to the aerospace industry and NASA, providing structural tools, methods research, and software solutions with its flagship product, HyperSizer. As a trusted industry leader, HyperSizer provides aerospace stress analysis and sizing optimization, reducing the weight of aircraft and space vehicles, whether designed with composites or traditional metallic materials. HyperSizer analyzes or "sizes" a structural panels' dimensions and layups, reducing structural weight, establishing margins of safety for all load cases and all potential failure modes, and creates the stress report for aircraft airworthiness certification. HyperSizer is developed by engineers, for engineers, and is currently being used by NASA on the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, and by aerospace industry leaders such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bombardier, and Gulfstream for commercial aircraft design.
Written By: Sheri Beam
Craig Collier has come full circle at NASA. Two decades ago, he was part of a team at Langley Research Center, developing software called ST-SIZE to help reduce mass on new high-speed aircraft designs, including the National Aerospace Plane. Today, he's back at Langley as head of Collier Research Corp., a Hampton contractor with HyperSizer, a son-of-ST-SIZE that is being used to reduce mass on the Orion crew exploration vehicle that will transport astronauts as part of the Constellation program of space exploration.
It's been quite an odyssey. "Actually ST-SIZE was the software developed by myself and some of the other NASA guys working the National Aerospace Plane," Collier says of its beginning. "Its purpose was to do a very fast weight-reduction using different design concepts and configurations of vehicles, so they could determine which one was going to be more optimum."
With the decline of the high speed research came an entrepreneurship idea. "At that time, NASA was doing technology transfer," Collier says. "It sounded kind of neat. I wanted to keep working that ST-SIZE project, and the NASP was dying down, so I thought it was a good opportunity to strike out on my own." And take ST-SIZE with him. Licensing that software turned out to be significant for both NASA and Collier.
The timing was right. "NASA had done this before with patents—with hardware—but never with software," Collier says. "For us, we just wanted to get the technology and hit the ground running. I think some of the folks at NASA wanted to use us as a trailblazer for how to do this in the future with other companies." In 1996, Langley licensed ST-SIZE to Collier, who started his own company. The firm then added features and matured the software for new applications. Eventually, ST-Size evolved into Collier's own software, called HyperSizer.
The company's initial work with NASA began by collaborating with Glenn Research Center and Pratt and Whitney to perform software integration for an aeronautics project. "It was the first opportunity we had to be a team partner," Collier says. "It was not just us and NASA, but it was also a major corporation: Pratt and Whitney. So it gave us a chance to use the tool, to share the database and to be able to see how they used the tool firsthand." A similar partnership followed with the Air Force Research Laboratory and Lockheed Martin for designing a long-range strike aircraft. In 2005, the firm received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from Langley to partner on structural designs for NASA's Orion.
Collier was back. According to Jeff Cerro, a structural engineer in Langley's Vehicle Analysis Branch, "they're the ones who have taken the essence of design manuals from a typical aerospace corporation and formalized that into code. You can (say), 'I want a piece of stiffened structure or a piece of honeycomb, or something with cross framing and stiffeners all together,' and tell it to size that for you."
Since then, Collier has received more SBIR Phase 3 awards from Langley and other NASA centers that are using HyperSizer on almost all aspects of creating Orion. For Collier, NASA's using HyperSizer on the crew exploration vehicle is momentous. "From the launch vehicle, hydrogen tank, to the crew module, to launch abort system to the lunar lander systems, nearly every piece of the new structure that is being designed is being impacted with the HyperSizer software," he said. "That to me is the most exciting thing I can talk about." The Orion work is also having a positive impact on HyperSizer, helping to build out the software's capability for future projects.
From ST-SIZE and NASA to HyperSizer and Collier Research, it's been a terrific trip. Better yet for Craig Collier, it's one that has a long way to go.
NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Lineberry
"A Hampton Roads company [Collier Research Corporation] has become the first to license computer software from NASA Langley as part of the agency's effort to transfer technology to U.S. businesses."
"This is a pioneering step for both NASA and the company, Collier Research & Development Corp. For NASA, it represents the emerging recognition of the value of computer software as a potentially licensable technology. The software intellectual property rights are being treated similarly to hardware patent rights. For Collier R&D, it represents a broadening of its business from engineering consulting to developers and marketers of software technology."
From the NASA Ares V launch vehicle hydrogen tank, to the NASA astronaut crew module, to the launch abort system (LAS), to the Lunar Lander system, nearly every piece of NASA’s new structure being designed is being impacted by HyperSizer software.
Watch the exciting journey of how HyperSizer got started and where it is today.
A strategy... to combine finite element analysis (FEA) with an automated design procedure was conceived at NASA Langley Research Center in the early 1980s and has evolved, through a series of precursor codes into this version of HyperSizer for analyzing the strength and stability of stiffened panels constructed of any material, including fiber-reinforced composites. Of particular note is the NASA code referred to as ST-SIZE (ST-SIZE© 1996 NASA. All rights reserved.). Collier Research Corporation obtained an exclusive, all fields of use license to ST-SIZE in May 1996. (Collier Research employees were principal developers of ST-SIZE and have been continually developing the software and analytical methods for the last twelve years).
Collier Research is combining the NASA LaRC ST-SIZE copyright research code with other company proprietary software. The combined computer software is marketed with the trademark HyperSizer®. (HyperSizer© 1996 Collier Research & Development Corp. All rights reserved.). HyperSizer has user support, training, maintenance, and documentation. More importantly though, Collier Research is providing accelerated R&D, greatly expanded capability and features, a graphical user interface (GUI), an integrated database management system, and the ability to integrate with other FEA modelers and solvers.
On to the history... NASA led development of ST-SIZE from 1988 to 1995. Two major versions of ST-SIZE were developed, each having completely re-written equations and code. The original version of ST-SIZE included formulations for stiffness terms and thermal expansion coefficients based on approximations commonly taken in traditional design methods.
During development of the National Aero-Space Plane (NASP) X-30 airframe and engine, a 1990 version of ST-SIZE was developed for structural design and weight prediction. Continued studies of NASP and other hypersonic vehicle structural designs exposed areas of more and more complex thermo-structural interaction and identified needs for even more accurate methods of formulating panel stiffness and thermal expansion coefficients. In addition, new design checks and features to enhance the code's usefulness were desired.
A novel method... for formulation of stiffened panel properties was conceived and developed starting in 1991. A method for accurately including composite lamina and laminate data in the formulation of stiffened panel structural properties was first developed. Thermal coefficients created to handle both in-plane and through-the-thickness temperature gradients for membrane, bending, and membrane-bending coupling were also introduced and mathematically proven. Shortly thereafter a method was developed to input these thermal expansion and bending coefficients into the MSC/NASTRAN FEA program using a model with a single plane of finite elements. (Other solvers are now supported such as I-DEAS). The significance of including fully defined thermoelastic data for an entire aircraft analysis was proven with the general formulation of panel thermoelastic stiffness terms. During this time the accuracy of the formulations were demonstrated with finely meshed 3-D FEA. These developments formed part of the foundation for the current version of HyperSizer.
The earlier codes were originally intended for weight prediction but evolved into ones that were able to assess structural integrity and find optimum sizes and materials.
This evolution... has enabled HyperSizer to benefit from the experience of various different structural sizing methods to 'real world' problems. HyperSizer includes the best of each for a mature foundation to advance from. With emphasis on composites, HyperSizer has recently improved macromechanics and implemented micromechanic analysis of the fiber and matrix constituents.