NASA has named a team led by Gerald “Jay” LeBeau of Johnson Space Center’s Engineering Directorate winner of the space agency’s 2002 Software of the Year Award. LeBeau and his team will share a $50,100 award.

LeBeau and his team earned the award for their DSMC Analysis Code (DAC) software, which simulates Rarefied Gas Dynamic Environments. DSMC stands for Direct Simulation Monte-Carlo, a simulation method. Rarefied gas dynamic environments include those encountered as spacecraft begin to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

The software provides insight into the interaction of spacecraft and rarified environments. It was used to provide information to help optimize and verify maneuvers of spacecraft that orbited Mars after they were slowed by repeatedly skimming through that planet’s atmosphere instead of relying on thrusters for deceleration. The technique enabled the spacecraft to be lighter, reducing launch costs.

Another application is analysis of plume impingement, the effects of firing of thrusters by one spacecraft on another spacecraft nearby. It also can look at effects of venting of a gas from a spacecraft.

Because tests to gain these kinds of knowledge are difficult and expensive to perform, the software has the potential of saving many millions of dollars. The software contributes to crew safety and mission success. It is used by other government agencies, including the Department of Defense, industry and academia.

“I’m very pleased to have DAC chosen as co-winner of the Software of the Year Award, and to share this honor with other team members,” said LeBeau, who works in the Engineering Directorate’s Aeroscience and Flight Mechanics Division. Others on the team include Forrest Lumpkin, Katie Jacikas and Phil Stuart, all of Johnson Space Center, and Richard Wilmoth and Christopher E. Glass, both of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

LeBeau, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and mechanics from the University of Minnesota, first came to Johnson Space Center in 1987 through the center’s cooperative education program. He began development of the software during a one-year rotational assignment in 1995 and 1996 to Langley Research Center as part of NASA’s Professional Development Program.

The software found immediate application. An early use was analyzing the effect of shuttle thruster firings as it approached the Russian space station Mir during the Shuttle-Mir Program. LeBeau and the team continue to upgrade the software.

The other co-winner of the Software of the Year Award was a team from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.