Science and Exploration

AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference: Relevance Drives the Speed of Technology Development and Transition

By Marc Boucher
July 28, 2014
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AIAA Propulsion and Energy Conference: Relevance Drives the Speed of Technology Development and Transition
Panel - Perspectives on the Future of Propulsion and Energy - The View from Users

Three separate panels hailed the “relevance of technology” as the key to compressing the technology’s development and transition timeline. The panels took place at AIAA’s Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cleveland, Ohio.
The three sessions considered the tech timeline compression question from three different angles. The first session viewed the issue from the perspective of technology users and researchers. The moderator was Alan Epstein, vice president, technology and environment, at Pratt & Whitney. Panelist Thomas Irvine, deputy associate administrator at NASA Headquarters’ Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, explained that “Relevance is the key to the transfer of tech, and that is what is more important than the compression of the timeline. If you are doing something relevant, the transfer will take place.” He said it is policies that drive the relevance – if a new rule requires something, then technology must evolve to meet that rule, and do so in a short timeframe. Examples cited by the panelists included airport noise regulations and emission policies – all of which drive technology development.

The second panel considered technology maturation, testing and validation. Panelists included Scott Cruzen, vice president, advanced design/technology at Williams International, and Tom Fetterhoff, technical director for test operations at Arnold Engineering Development Complex. This panel reached the same conclusion as the first: relevance is all-important, “the key to everything,” as Fetterhoff put it. “You can’t transfer the tech without it,” he said. “If you don’t have the need for [the technology, it goes nowhere.” This second panel also cited additive manufacturing as a solution for speeding up transition. Cruzen noted that this manufacturing technique “is rapidly becoming a part of what we do – to produce what we do from scratch, rather than taking a big chunk of metal and taking away everything you don’t want.” This additive approach is “a huge timeline compressor,” said Cruzen.

The last panel discussed the issue from the technology acquisition perspective. Panelists Keith Leverkuhn, vice president, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, and James Newhouse, chief, Propulsion Acquisition Division at Air Force Materiel Command, also endorsed relevance in a slightly different way, noting that requirement lockdowns are key to moving forward – you must know exactly what is required before you begin. Leverkuhn and Newhouse both noted that sometimes you think you do know, but that’s only the “30,000-foot view, and you need to get a lot lower.” Leverkuhn said, “If the requirements aren’t locked down early, stuff happens that we don’t want to happen.”

Other factors influencing timeline compression, according to all three panels, are money, policy, and better integration of comprehensive testing platforms, project requirements and knowledge among universities, the government and industry. All the panels agreed a technology’s relevance for meeting a need trumped all other considerations.

By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.