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Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power: An Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy
The current SSP technology program4 is directed at technical areas that have important commercial, civil, and military applications for the nation. A dedicated NASA team, operating with a minimal budget, has defined a potentially valuable program—one that will require significantly higher funding levels and programmatic stability to attain the aggressive performance, mass, and cost goals that are required for terrestrial baseload power generation. Nevertheless, significant breakthroughs will be required to achieve the final goal of cost-competitive terrestrial baseload power. The ultimate success of the terrestrial power application depends critically on dramatic reductions in the cost of transportation from Earth to GEO. Funding plans developed during SERT are reasonable, at least during the 5 years prior to the first flight demonstration in 2006 (see Table ES-1). The committee is concerned, however, that the investment strategy may be based on modeling efforts and individual cost, mass, and technology performance goals that may guide management toward poor investment decisions. Modeling efforts should be strengthened and goals subjected to additional peer review before further investment decisions are made. Furthermore, SERT goals could be accomplished sooner and potentially at less cost through an aggressive effort by the SERT program to capitalize on technology advances made by organizations outside NASA.
Recommendations to the NASA SSP program can be generally categorized by three main imperatives: (1) improving technical management processes, (2) sharpening the technology development focus, and (3) capitalizing on other work. Figure ES-1 provides a snapshot of the committee’s key recommendations. Each recommendation is numbered to correspond to the text section in which it is discussed.
Improving Technical Management Processes
NASA’s SERT program’s technical management processes need to be improved. Currently the program
TABLE ES-1 Proposed Space Solar Power Program Resources Allocation, FY 2002 to FY 2006 (millions of dollars)
Systems integration, analysis, and modeling
Total technology development
Technology flight demonstrations
SOURCE: Adapted in part from “Strategic Research and Technology Road Map.” Briefing by John Mankins and Joe Howell, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to the Committee for the Assessment of NASA’s Space Solar Power Investment Strategy, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., December 14, 2000.
has developed a set of integrated roadmaps containing goals, lists of technology challenges and objectives, and a strawman schedule of program milestones that guide technology investment. Appendix C contains a sample set of roadmaps that have been developed for the entire SERT program and each of the program’s 12 individual technology areas. The roadmaps’ performance, mass, and cost goals are tied to research and technology initiatives in various technical areas necessary for SSP. Unfortunately, the committee did not find adequate traceability between the goals at the system level and those at the subsystem level.
Integral to the milestone schedule are a series of downselect opportunities that precede each flight test demonstration. However, there is no formal mechanism at this point in the program to guide these downselect decisions. The committee has also seen evidence that the current SERT program’s roadmaps do not adequately incorporate the planned advances in low-cost space transportation, both Earth-to-orbit and in-space options. Since advancements in space transportation are key to the SSP program’s ultimate success, the timing and achievement of technology advances and cost and mass goals by the separate space transportation programs within NASA should be included directly in the SSP roadmaps. A periodic revamping of the roadmaps should be done based on the achievements of NASA in space transportation. SSP
This assessment evaluates the SERT program and the followon SSP R&T efforts through December 15, 2000. Program changes after that date are not included.