in order for the currently planned program to become viable; (2) interaction with other government agencies, commercial entities (including the utility industry), and other organizations should increase; and (3) tough downselect decisions for various technologies and flight test hardware must be made, assuming that the increased funds will still be constraining.

However, when NASA leaves the planning stage and undertakes serious technology development, the SSP program would be better served by adding a technology development process complete with specific goals, dates, and procedures to be followed. This clarification of the organization and decision-making approach is necessary to meet technology goals at critical program milestones and with efficient use of funds. The program should define each of the integration functions and clearly charge the responsible organizations with explicit responsibilities. Although advancements in research and technology are difficult to schedule, adequate funding should be provided to each organization to undertake these assigned responsibilities at a high level of quality and at a reasonable pace. The approach should be similar to major program organizations at a much later stage of the development cycle, because the program involves several NASA centers, outside agencies, and the international community. NASA should develop a written implementation plan for carrying out the work.

Definition of a consistent process to adjudicate competing objectives is also necessary. It is almost inevitable that institutional considerations will sometimes be at odds with purely end-product goals, and it is better to address this likelihood with an objective decision process before positions stiffen within the SSP program and among the NASA centers.

Recommendation 3–1–1: NASA’s SSP program should improve its organizational and decision-making approach by drawing up a written technology development plan with specific goals, dates, and procedures for carrying out technology advancement, systems integration, and flight demonstration. The SSP program should also establish a consistent process to adjudicate competing objectives within the program and specifically include timing and achievement of technology advances in robotics and space transportation in the roadmaps.

Sharpening the Technology Development Focus

Many SSP issues relate to manufacturing cost, not just performance. Cost estimation expertise is largely to be found in industry, not in the NASA laboratories or academia. Appreciable funding of and consultation with relevant industrial firms is required to gain authoritative costs to be used as future inputs to the integration model. Investment should also be made in high-payoff, high-risk manufacturing technologies to reduce the cost of all the components since many hundreds of duplicate pieces will be necessary.

The committee notes that technology is available today to build an SSP system (i.e., solar electricity is currently generated in space, microwave power transmission has been successfully demonstrated terrestrially, and space transmission is in demonstration by Japan). However, such technology would be impractical and uneconomical for the generation of terrestrial baseload power due to the high cost and mass of the components and construction. The system would also have to be constructed and utilized by humans in LEO, not the GEO planned for future large SSP systems, which would be constructed or deployed autonomously. It would be completely unable to “close the business case” for its (presumably) commercial sponsors and their funding sources. The committee considers that the present SERT cost and performance targets for several of the technologies are beyond present credibility, particularly in solar power generation (SPG), space power management and distribution (SPMAD), and wireless power transmission (WPT). In addition, goals in structural mass and performance may be too stringent. The committee suggests further design studies in this area before additional technology investment is made. Substantial improvements in assembly, maintenance, and service are also essential for the success of this program. If successful, these technology advancements will have many other applications. However, the committee realizes that the SSP program as currently envisioned is planned to unfold in stages, with NASA leading demonstration projects at progressively higher power levels (100 kW, 1 MW, and 10 MW) provided that positive decisions are made at each milestone to make the investments necessary to continue with the program.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement