Science and Exploration

NASA Releases Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan

By Marc Boucher
February 11, 2013
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NASA Releases Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan
NASA Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan

NASA today released its strategic space technology investment plan. The plan, outlined in a 92 page document, is meant to be a comprehensive strategic plan prioritizing technologies for NASA to achieve its mission.
“Technology enables discovery and advancement,” NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck said. “We look forward to working with our stakeholders to grow our technological base and take the journey to expand scientific understanding, explore the universe, and make a
positive impact on the lives of all.”

Excerpted from the document:

Principles of Investment and Execution

The following six principles guide NASA’s space technology investment strategy and portfolio execution, with the objectives of optimizing investments, maintaining a balanced portfolio, using developed technologies, and providing transparency to the American public.

1) NASA will balance investments across all 14 Space Technology Areas in the

The 14 Space Technology Areas focus on strategically identified areas where significant technology investments are anticipated and where substantial enhancements in NASA mission capabilities are needed. Breadth also allows NASA to participate in development of technological solutions addressing broader national needs in energy, weather and climate, Earth science, health and wellness, and national security. By investing in all Space Technology Areas, the Agency is better able to maintain a well-rounded and robust technology portfolio. Decisions about the level of investment and focus of investment in these 14 areas are outlined in the NASA SSTIP and will be refined, as needed, by NTEC.

2) NASA will balance investments across all levels of technology readiness.

At TRL 1, the lowest TRL, information already learned from basic research is taking its first step from an idea toward a particular application. At TRL 9, the highest TRL, the technology has been fully incorporated into a larger system, where it has been proven to work as designed, with suitable reliability, and is therefore considered operational. By investing in all TRLs for pioneering and crosscutting as well as mission-specific technologies, the Agency ensures a robust pipeline of new capabilities. NASA will also focus at least 10 percent of the total technology investment on low-TRL (1-2) concepts to ensure the pipeline is continually replenished.

3) NASA will ensure developed technologies are infused into Agency missions.

Technology programs within the Mission Directorates undertake narrowly focused and near-term development activities. Mission Directorates and Centers will be provided with information about the entire technology portfolio, enabling them to leverage their investment dollars in the Agency context and/or adapt technologies for their own use. Technology projects in the mid- to high-technology readiness levels are strongly encouraged to identify stakeholder communities up front, negotiate Mission Use Agreements that articulate technology needs in terms of infusion into missions, and ensure that larger technology investments produce the desired capabilities. For example, NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program selects development projects to prove feasibility in the environment of space and help advance innovations from concept to flight so they can be infused into future missions. Current TDM projects are expected to infuse new technologies in the areas of space communications, deep space navigation, and
in-space propulsion capabilities into future NASA missions.

4) NASA will develop technologies through partnerships and ensure developed
technologies are infused throughout the domestic space enterprise.

Fostering partnerships can leverage funding, capabilities, and expertise both within and outside the Agency to address technology barriers and provide capabilities. These cost-shared, joint-development partnerships can bring together new sources of information not only to address NASA’s technology needs but also to benefit the Nation.

NASA has established partnering and development programs to ensure technologies developed for NASA exploration and discovery missions are broadly available to other Government agencies and commercial industries. NASA is also exploring ways to enhance or improve its ability to increase the rate, volume, and quality of its technology transfer activities, thereby increasing the economic impact and public benefit of Federal technology investments. Toward

that end, NASA has drafted the following objectives:

• Fuel the technology transfer stream with an Agency-wide renewed emphasis in technology research and development and demonstration.

• Revise the Agency’s policies on commercialization to ensure alignment with NASA’s current focus on technology development and best practices in technology transfer.

• Build domestic partnerships for technology development, transfer, and mutual benefit.

• Tie the technology transfer process at all stages of technology development, ensuring that formal technology transfer is considered at the earliest phases, when programs and activities are being formulated and acquisition planned.

• Increase the number of new technologies reported by NASA civil servants and contractors.

• Improve licensing processes and outcomes.

• Consider other tools and authorities for accelerating licensing of technologies.

Partnerships with international entities can also help advance NASA’s technology goals. NASA has a long history of mutually beneficial international cooperation, which has significantly enhanced the technical and scientific return of the Agency’s programs. International coordination is also particularly important as space agencies around the world consider how best to apply scarce resources toward common science and exploration objectives. For example, NASA’s participation in the multilateral International Space Exploration Coordination Group, which developed the Global Exploration Roadmap in 2011, provides useful insight into the international community’s overall interests and technology investment needs.

5) NASA will use a systems engineering approach when planning technology

The Agency agrees with the NRC’s recommended use of disciplined systems analysis for space technology portfolio management and decision support, and the benefits of such analysis are recognized by the Agency as critical to NASA’s investment strategy. NASA’s Mission Directorates currently conduct system analyses similar to that recommended by the NRC. Such analyses are vital to the establishment of the most cost-effective architectures for individual human and robotic exploration missions as well as overall suites of missions.

In the case of human exploration, for example, a “capability-driven” approach
seeks to package capabilities into a logical progression of common elements needed for increasingly demanding missions. Systems analysis is conducted to identify the crosscutting technologies necessary to ensure that critical capabilities are available for the reference missions in a timely way. Common capability gates also are identified for Agency areas of interest. From this capability-driven human space exploration technology approach, the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) develops technology-investment strategies with incremental development steps that produce a small suite of alternatives specifically directed at achieving their desired missions. They execute these investments, monitor development progress, and make adjustments to reduce risk,
thus ensuring mission accomplishment on time and within budget.

Over the next year, the Agency will carefully consider current system analysis processes and tools within NASA, as well as alternative approaches from other organizations. The Agency will identify broadly applicable methodologies that best enable NASA to effectively manage its space technology portfolio. NASA will consider current and alternative analytical approaches to not only identify technology investments but also monitor, assess, and where necessary, realign or terminate technology investments. NASA will ensure the Agency continues to efficiently develop needed capabilities, emphasizing return on investment.

6) NASA will reach out to the public and share information about its technology

One of the NRC’s recommendations on the Space Technology Roadmaps emphasized the importance of the capture, management, and sharing of space technology advancements with other Government agencies, academic institutions, commercial enterprises, and the resulting societal benefits with the general public. In response to this recommendation, OCT is undertaking an effort to develop an Agency-wide, web-based software system, NASA TechPort, to support the objective of integrating and disseminating key information about NASA investments in space technology. TechPort will offer opportunities for increased collaboration in the realm of space technology, and will enhance the visibility of NASA’s Space Technology Portfolio both internally to NASA and externally to the public.

TechPort will support the capturing and tracking of innovative challenges, new technologies, and ongoing projects. TechPort capabilities will support technology infusion into NASA missions and the communication of technologies into the commercial marketplace. When the public access version of TechPort is released in the fall of 2013, it will make accessible any publicly available technology reports and provide links to patents, licenses, and software usage that emerge from NASA technology development projects.

By providing open, easy-to-use access to NASA space technology information, TechPort will facilitate technology transfer, technology partnerships, and technology commercialization activities across NASA and will extend to other Government agencies, industry, and international entities. The general public will be able to use TechPort to find technologies of interest and learn of the societal impacts of NASA’s technology investments. OCT will continue to communicate the many benefits of the Agency’s technology to the public through other means as well.

Download the Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan

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