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Institutional Investments: Establishing the Foundations

ESE programs and projects are commonly designed to build on each other, as exemplified by component technology studies that feed into instrument development projects and ultimately support research missions. This chapter discusses two institutional investments that are particularly critical to laying the groundwork for resource-constrained PI-led missions.

The first important institutional investment is technology development. A hallmark of successful missions has been a technology base, built up over the course of a decade or longer, that reduces the risks associated with the short development schedule of PI-led missions. The second critical institutional investment is the nurturing of a community of PIs with the skills and experience required to lead a project with the scope of a PI-led mission. The number of qualified PIs is currently small, and there are limited opportunities in ESE to develop both the system engineering and project management expertise necessary to lead a mission.

DEVELOPMENT OF REQUIRED TECHNOLOGIES

New scientific measurements generally require the development of new technology or new applications of existing technology. However, the desire for PI-led missions to provide fast turnaround conflicts with the time and testing required to adequately reduce the risks of new technologies during the development phase. Although this conflict has been recognized,1 NASA’s Earth and Space Science Enterprises (ESE and SSE, respectively) have devised only limited solutions to address it.

NASA’s recent shift toward more frequent, faster, and cheaper missions, which began after Daniel Goldin was appointed as administrator in 1992, took advantage of a fairly large “reservoir” of new technologies developed under previous observatory- and facility-class missions and technology programs. A concern was raised, however, that early PI-led missions would exploit this reservoir and that future mission concepts would be limited as the backlog of previously developed technology was exhausted without concurrently developing new technologies.

The committee heard from numerous presenters, including several small-mission PIs, that cost- and schedule-constrained missions are not well suited for undertaking significant technology development. In most cases the

1  

The ESSP-3 AO summarizes the dilemma with regard to technology development: “NASA is committed to successfully infusing new technologies that will lower mission costs in its programs. However, the short definition and development time available for ESSP missions generally will not allow for significant technology development after mission selection.”



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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions 4 Institutional Investments: Establishing the Foundations ESE programs and projects are commonly designed to build on each other, as exemplified by component technology studies that feed into instrument development projects and ultimately support research missions. This chapter discusses two institutional investments that are particularly critical to laying the groundwork for resource-constrained PI-led missions. The first important institutional investment is technology development. A hallmark of successful missions has been a technology base, built up over the course of a decade or longer, that reduces the risks associated with the short development schedule of PI-led missions. The second critical institutional investment is the nurturing of a community of PIs with the skills and experience required to lead a project with the scope of a PI-led mission. The number of qualified PIs is currently small, and there are limited opportunities in ESE to develop both the system engineering and project management expertise necessary to lead a mission. DEVELOPMENT OF REQUIRED TECHNOLOGIES New scientific measurements generally require the development of new technology or new applications of existing technology. However, the desire for PI-led missions to provide fast turnaround conflicts with the time and testing required to adequately reduce the risks of new technologies during the development phase. Although this conflict has been recognized,1 NASA’s Earth and Space Science Enterprises (ESE and SSE, respectively) have devised only limited solutions to address it. NASA’s recent shift toward more frequent, faster, and cheaper missions, which began after Daniel Goldin was appointed as administrator in 1992, took advantage of a fairly large “reservoir” of new technologies developed under previous observatory- and facility-class missions and technology programs. A concern was raised, however, that early PI-led missions would exploit this reservoir and that future mission concepts would be limited as the backlog of previously developed technology was exhausted without concurrently developing new technologies. The committee heard from numerous presenters, including several small-mission PIs, that cost- and schedule-constrained missions are not well suited for undertaking significant technology development. In most cases the 1   The ESSP-3 AO summarizes the dilemma with regard to technology development: “NASA is committed to successfully infusing new technologies that will lower mission costs in its programs. However, the short definition and development time available for ESSP missions generally will not allow for significant technology development after mission selection.”

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions TABLE 4.1 NASA Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) Technology Phase TRL Level TRL Level Description Basic Research Level 1 Basic principles observed and reported Research to Prove Feasibility Level 2 Technology concept and/or application formulated Technology Development Level 3 Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept Technology Development Level 4 Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment Technology Demonstration Level 5 Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment Technology Demonstration Level 6 System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in relevant environment (ground or space) System/Subsystem Development Level 7 System prototype demonstration in a space environment System/Subsystem Development Level 8 Actual system completed and “flight qualified” through test and demonstration (ground or space) System Test, Launch, and Operations Level 9 Actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations payload and spacecraft bus of such missions benefited from substantial design and hardware heritage at the start. In a few cases where significant technology advancements were required, development difficulties led to substantial cost increases and schedule delays that have jeopardized the missions. As a result of these experiences NASA has recognized the need for further limiting the risks associated with new technology development. ESSP officials told the committee that under prior solicitations, proposal reviews paid inadequate attention to implementation capability and technology maturity.2 In future solicitations, however, new technology infusion will be encouraged where it enables new measurement capabilities and/or promises reduced costs, while development risk will be more closely controlled by ensuring sufficient technology maturity at the start. NASA describes technology maturity in terms of technology readiness levels (TRLs), as described in Table 4.1. Although the ESSP-3 AO does not appear to identify a specific TRL requirement, it was suggested to the committee that the TRL should be at least TRL 6.3 Existing Technology Development Resources ESSP expects proposed mission technologies to have sufficient maturity to achieve launch readiness within 36 months (nominally TRL 6 or higher); therefore, the community must look to other programs for new technology development at lower TRLs. NASA has several programs that currently address these needs for the Earth sciences. Under the Earth Science Technology Program (ESTP), the Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) sponsors four such programs: Advanced Component Technologies (ACT), Computational Technologies (CT), Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST), and the Instrument Incubator Program (IIP). Under the Office of Space Science, the New Millennium Program (NMP) supports spaceflight proof-of-concept demonstrations. The Office of Aerospace Technology’s Mission and Science Measurement Technology (MSMT) theme sponsors the Enabling Concepts and Technologies Program (EC&TP, which incorporates the former Cross-Enterprise Technology Development Program (CETDP)) that provides a vehicle for more basic research leading to laboratory demonstration. Finally, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs support R&D efforts at small companies and nonprofit research institutions. Table 4.2 summarizes the key characteristics of these programs; more detailed descriptions of the programs are in Appendix D. The combination of NASA programs available to support new technology development appears to address the entire range of technology readiness needed for support of and inclusion in new Earth science missions. Indeed, 2   N. Chrissotimos, Earth System Science Pathfinder, presentation to the Committee on Earth Studies, April 25, 2001. 3   N. Chrissotimos; see note 2.

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions TABLE 4.2 NASA Programs for New Technology Development Program Key Characteristics Technology Readiness Mission and Science Measurement Technology/ Enabling Concepts and Technologies Program Concept development through laboratory demonstration TRL 2-4 Advanced Component Technologies and Advanced Information Systems Technology Component and information systems technology development TRL 2-5 Instrument Incubator Program Instrument system technology development TRL 3-6 New Millennium Program Flight validation TRL 5-8 Small Business Innovation Research/ Small Business Technology Transfer Small company R&D support N.A. Computational Technologies Massive parallel computing applications N.A. ESSP AO-01-OES-01 states that NASA expects that the technology-driven activities such as the NMP and the IIP “will serve as the primary technology ‘engines’ for future Earth Science Enterprise missions.” The committee agrees that this may be a reasonable expectation if the MSMT/EC&TP, ACT, and AIST programs can provide adequate low-TRL research and development on new concepts to fuel the IIP and NMP programs. Coordination, Continuity, and Balance of Technology Resources With adequate funding, NASA’s existing programs have the potential to provide the new technologies and instruments needed to support a robust Earth science program. However, funding is always an issue, and NASA should seek maximum cost-effectiveness by striving for coordination, continuity, and balance among its programs. There is a clear need to coordinate programs between enterprises to ensure needed coverage and to avoid redundancy. This is particularly important for Earth science since both the NMP and MSMT/EC&TP are managed outside ESE. Continuity is a key to effective planning and efficient operations. Over the past several years, ESE has revolutionized its approach to technology development, as reflected in its strategic plans. As a result, most of the ESTO programs—ACT, AIST, and IIP—are new and have experienced only one or two acquisition cycles; the NMP has recently been restructured to focus on technology and to broaden participation; and, with the move from the SSE to the Office of Aerospace Technology and its incorporation into the MSMT Enabling Concepts and Technologies Program, the continuity and future direction of the former CETDP are uncertain. Although the MSMT/EC&TP, ACT, AIST, CT, IIP, and NMP together address all elements of the technology development process, there arises a question of balance. Will funding allocated among these programs yield a continuous flow of new instruments and spacecraft technologies as needed, or will some activity be underfunded and result in a TRL gap? As indicated below, the committee recommends that a quantitative assessment of the anticipated flow of technology through the TRL chain compared with the projected needs of future ESE missions be performed. Potential for Enhancing Technology Development NASA’s SSE has recently begun to consider ways to enhance technology development by providing limited technology funding to highly rated Discovery missions that were not selected because of technology readiness

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions concerns.4 Other projects, including ESE’s CALIPSO, have taken the initiative after nonselection to perform technology risk reduction, using team funding, in preparation for subsequent AO submissions. It is clear that even limited technology funding prior to an AO can provide substantial risk reduction leverage by eliminating one or several “tall poles” that would otherwise impede approval for flight. Such support is particularly effective with risk reduction tasks that require limited funding but have schedule needs inconsistent with accomplishing the task during formulation. The Discovery model, based on identifying funding candidates from the pool of nonselected proposals, provides a good approach to limited technology development within the control of the PI-led mission programs. Finding: The rigorous and ambitious cost and schedule constraints imposed on PI-led missions preclude all but minimal technology development prior to launch. Recommendation: NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise should explicitly nurture and coordinate technology feeder programs—such as the Instrument Incubator Program and the Office of Aerospace Technology’s Mission and Science Measurement Technology Program—that develop technologies with potential application to PI-led missions. A quantitative assessment of the anticipated flow of technology through the technology readiness level chain would help guide this effort. Finding: Proposers of non-selected PI-led missions found to have high scientific priority but known technical risk have limited access to funding for reducing the project’s level of risk prior to the next proposal round. Both ESE and the scientific community would benefit from improved opportunities to reduce the technical risk of recognized high-priority science missions and then re-propose them. Recommendation: NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise should include within the solicitation for PI-led missions a component, following the Solar System Exploration Discovery model, that provides limited technology funding for high-priority non-selected PI-led mission proposals to increase their technology readiness for the next proposal round. DEVELOPMENT OF QUALIFIED PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS Experience and institutional capabilities vary greatly among scientists who may be PI candidates for PI-led missions. A purported advantage of such missions is that they are driven by science rather than technology. However, in order for PIs to succeed in their mission management they must have adequate institutional infrastructure and program management support, as well as a working understanding of the trade-offs between science requirements, technology development requirements, schedule constraints, and costs. To increase and strengthen the field of potential PIs it is therefore necessary to provide more scientists with opportunities to develop these capabilities. Scientists’ involvement in technology development projects can familiarize them with the scope of activity required to successfully lead projects and ultimately missions, help them establish relationships with industry representatives and NASA program managers, and help build and sustain the university infrastructure needed to support such activities. The experience and capability both needed and acquired increase substantially with the scope of the project. Thus, scientists should compete for opportunities consistent with their capabilities and advance to progressively greater challenges. ESE can facilitate this process by encouraging university participation in programs like ACT, AIST, IIP, NMP, and ESSP, which offer PIs opportunities to develop their skills and institutional capabilities over the entire range of technical readiness levels for components, instruments, and entire missions. Experience to date 4   Kepler was provided limited technology funding following the Discovery-3 selection despite not being selected for flight. This funding was used to mitigate the risk associated with a prominent “tall pole” in its technology readiness, and Kepler was selected for flight in Discovery-4.

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions is mixed. The first ACT (formerly known as the ATIP [Advanced Technology Initiative Program]) awards were skewed heavily toward NASA centers and federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs; only 2 of 23 went to universities), whereas the first CEDTP awards went mostly to universities (56 of 111) and industry. Further up the technical maturity chain, 8 of the first 27 IIP awards but only 2 of the next 11 have gone to universities. Balloon, aircraft, sounding rocket, and shuttle flight opportunities can also increase the number of experienced PIs.5 ESE may wish to encourage the growth of intermediate-scale Earth observation programs that can fill the PI-training gap between instrument development and full ESSP mission leadership. In addition, ESE may wish to consider a more proactive stance in encouraging university participation in its technology development programs, perhaps along the lines of the recent NMP AOs, which indicated NASA would reject FFRDC, government, or national laboratory proposals that are substantially the same as those submitted by universities or industry. Successful PI-led programs tend to be mature mission designs under the leadership of highly experienced PIs. In SSE as well as ESE, experienced PIs are those who are intimately familiar with standard technical, cost, and schedule management techniques, or they team closely with industry managers or NASA centers that know how to manage missions. Much of the technical work required to build and launch a satellite experiment is incompatible with career advancement expectations for university-based PIs (because the process of building an instrument does not produce a steady stream of peer-reviewed publications), and it is of limited pedagogical value for their PhD students (who need to produce original work rather than reconstructing reliable well-tested systems).6 The teaming of PIs with experienced project managers can create sufficiently strong teams even if the PI has limited project experience. Even if PIs work with experienced engineering teams, the long-term success of PI-led missions requires that NASA ensure the availability of qualified PIs. To date, there has been no evidence of any shortage of scientific ideas or of PI candidates who are scientifically qualified to promote them. There is, however, substantial concern about the limited number of scientists who also have project management experience and who can make the time commitment to lead a mission program. The scientific community needs to be nurtured so that potential PIs have a path in ESE to gain the experience needed to lead a mission. ESE should, for example, explicitly recognize that a properly structured AO provides a learning experience for nonselected PI candidates so that they are able to submit stronger proposals for subsequent solicitations. Information exchange is critical to building the community of qualified PIs. Thus posting documentation such as “lessons learned” on the Web, organizing town meeting workshops (at major conferences or in Washington, D.C.), or planning other informational activities to educate prospective PIs and project managers are all useful. Additional steps that can be taken to nurture PIs include: Emphasizing the objective of high flight rate to increase the number of opportunities available for PIs; Creating a multitiered AO structure that allows PIs to gain experience on smaller projects before moving to larger ones; Establishing a publicly recognized process that helps potential PIs access the experience of current PIs and the AO program and project offices; Making ESE and SSE mission AOs and evaluation processes as similar as possible, thus increasing the number of PIs and potential PIs who can share experience; and Providing extensive face-to-face feedback for nonselected teams to enable them to become more effective proposers in subsequent AO proposal rounds. 5   The importance of balloon and sounding rocket programs to both the advancement of space science and the training of future PIs is discussed in Chapter 7 of National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space Physics, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003, and in Chapter 3, “Report of the Panel on Atmosphere-Ionosphere-Magnetosphere Interactions” in National Research Council, The Sun to the Earth—and Beyond: Panel Reports, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003. 6   G. Stephens, Colorado State University, presentation to the Committee on Earth Studies, April 26, 2001.

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions Finding: The Earth science community, particularly the university-based community, has historically produced only a small number of scientists with the in-depth space engineering and technical management experience that is required to lead a project in a PI mode of operation. Recommendation: NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise should formally identify and promote activities that develop PIs qualified to propose and lead small, focused science missions.