D
NASA Technology Development Programs Relevant to PI-Led Earth Explorers Missions

ADVANCED COMPONENT TECHNOLOGIES

The Advanced Component Technologies (ACT) program (formerly Advanced Technology Initiative, ATI)

is designed to bring instruments, platforms, and information system components to a maturity level that allows their integration into other NASA technology development programs such as the Instrument Incubator Program and the New Millennium Program. Some components are directly infused into mission designs by ES [Earth science] flight projects. The program also develops new ways to perform measurements and to process ES data products to expand ES research and application capabilities.1

The first ATI NASA Research Announcement (NRA) in 1999 focused on instrument technology with an emphasis on the needs documented in the 1998 Earth Science Technology Office’s Capabilities and Needs Assessment. This competition resulted in 23 awards at $150,000 to $300,000 per year for 1- to 3-year programs: 8 to NASA field centers, 8 to federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) (mostly the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)), 5 to industry, and 2 to universities. Awards were made in five categories: active optical, active microwave, passive optical, passive microwave, and other. A second NRA was issued in February 2002 with proposals due in April 2002. A list of awards is available online at <http://esto.nasa.gov/obs_technologies_invest.html>.

ADVANCED INFORMATION SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY

Per the Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) program’s Web site,2

The objectives of the AIST Program are to identify, develop and (where appropriate) demonstrate advanced information system technologies which:

  • Enable new Earth observation measurements and information products;

  • Increase the accessibility and utility of Earth science data; and

  • Reduce the risk, cost, size, and development time of ESE space-based and ground-based information systems.

1  

See the ACT program Web site at <http://www.esto.nasa.gov/programs/act/>.

2  

See the AIST Web site at <http://esto.nasa.gov/programs/aist/>.



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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions D NASA Technology Development Programs Relevant to PI-Led Earth Explorers Missions ADVANCED COMPONENT TECHNOLOGIES The Advanced Component Technologies (ACT) program (formerly Advanced Technology Initiative, ATI) is designed to bring instruments, platforms, and information system components to a maturity level that allows their integration into other NASA technology development programs such as the Instrument Incubator Program and the New Millennium Program. Some components are directly infused into mission designs by ES [Earth science] flight projects. The program also develops new ways to perform measurements and to process ES data products to expand ES research and application capabilities.1 The first ATI NASA Research Announcement (NRA) in 1999 focused on instrument technology with an emphasis on the needs documented in the 1998 Earth Science Technology Office’s Capabilities and Needs Assessment. This competition resulted in 23 awards at $150,000 to $300,000 per year for 1- to 3-year programs: 8 to NASA field centers, 8 to federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) (mostly the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)), 5 to industry, and 2 to universities. Awards were made in five categories: active optical, active microwave, passive optical, passive microwave, and other. A second NRA was issued in February 2002 with proposals due in April 2002. A list of awards is available online at <http://esto.nasa.gov/obs_technologies_invest.html>. ADVANCED INFORMATION SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY Per the Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) program’s Web site,2 The objectives of the AIST Program are to identify, develop and (where appropriate) demonstrate advanced information system technologies which: Enable new Earth observation measurements and information products; Increase the accessibility and utility of Earth science data; and Reduce the risk, cost, size, and development time of ESE space-based and ground-based information systems. 1   See the ACT program Web site at <http://www.esto.nasa.gov/programs/act/>. 2   See the AIST Web site at <http://esto.nasa.gov/programs/aist/>.

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions The first AIST NRA, issued in 1999, resulted in 30 awards: 5 to NASA field centers, 9 to FFRDCs, 7 to industry, and 9 to universities. A second AIST NRA was issued in September 2002 with proposals due in November 2002. A list of awards is available at <http://esto.nasa.gov/info_technologies_aist2.html>. INSTRUMENT INCUBATOR PROGRAM The Instrument Incubator Program (IIP) attempts to bridge the gap between low-TRL (technology readiness level) development efforts like the ACT program and the instrument technical maturity needs of future missions. Instrument development under the IIP typically starts around TRL 3 to 5 and increases maturity to TRL 6 or 7. The latest IIP NRA states that “the results at the exit point should provide convincing evidence that the instrumentation can make the proposed measurements and that an operational instrument can be built within the context of the new shorter acquisition cycles.”3 This typically requires an exit point of TRL 6 or higher. The first IIP NRA (NRA-98-OES-05) resulted in 123 proposals and 27 awards (8 to universities) totaling about $20 million, with 12- to 36-month periods of performance. The second IIP NRA (NRA-01-OES-01) solicitation resulted in 64 proposals and 11 awards (2 to universities) totaling $29.5 million. A third IIP NRA (NRA-02-OES-03) resulted in 28 proposals and 9 awards (2 to universities) totaling $22 million. If adequately funded, the Instrument Incubator Program has the potential to provide the continuous stream of new instruments needed to support future Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) missions. Planned project funding levels seem consistent with instrument designs that can be adequately validated with ground testing. For those instruments that require flight validation to sufficiently settle questions of development risk, NASA offers the New Millennium Program. THE NEW MILLENNIUM PROGRAM The New Millennium Program (NMP) is managed by NASA’s Office of Space Science but addresses technologies that may be needed by both the space and Earth sciences. NMP missions have been fielded every few years to flight-test new suites of technologies. Early NMP missions had a science component and were designated as DS (Deep Space) or EO (Earth Observation) missions. More recently the program has been restructured and refocused on technology, and missions are now designated Space Technology (ST). The recent NMP Technology Announcements (TAs) and NASA NRAs demonstrate a more structured and open competitive process for formulating New Millennium missions than had prevailed for the early missions. The process now includes three phases: Technology Concept Definition Study, Formulation Refinement, and Implementation. The TA/NRA is an open competition within a defined set of technology study areas (e.g., autonomy and on-board processing) drawn from NASA’s strategic planning process. Multiple Technology Concept Definition Study awards are made, followed by a down-select (up to 5) for the formulation refinement phase. At the conclusion of formulation refinement, the NMP office determines the readiness of the project to proceed into the implementation phase, which is approved following a successful NASA HQ confirmation review (mission confirmation review for the ESE). The TAs for ST-6 and ST-7 also included a provision apparently designed to protect intellectual property and promote greater participation by universities and industry: “NASA will reject any proposals received from government, national laboratories or FFRDCs that are substantially the same as an industry or university proposal.” With the proviso that the process for selecting the specific study areas in a given TA/NRA should be open for input, review, and comment by the science and technology communities, the NMP mission formulation process as defined in the ST-6 and ST-7 TAs and the ST-8 NRA appears to be a substantial improvement over prior practice. As a technology demonstration program, NMP can accept somewhat more development risk than can science missions such as the Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) or Earth Observing System, particularly if the risk 3   NASA Research Announcement, Instrument Incubator Program, NRA 01-OES-01, issued March 9, 2001, is available online at <http://research.hq.nasa.gov/code_y/nra/current/NRA-01-OES-01/NRA01OES01.pdf>.

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Steps to Facilitate Principal-Investigator-Led Earth Science Missions is to specific technology demonstrations and not to the entire mission. Investigators must propose technology that, at the start of the study phase, is at least at the end of TRL 3 and is capable of reaching TRL 4 at down-select to the formulation refinement phase and TRL 5 or higher at project approval. MISSION AND SCIENCE MEASUREMENT TECHNOLOGY The Office of Aerospace Technology seeks to “define new system concepts and demonstrate new technologies which enable new science measurements” under its Mission and Science Measurement Technology theme. Programs under this theme include Engineering for Complex Systems; Computing, Information and Communications Technology; and Enabling Concepts and Technologies. This activity has incorporated the former Cross-Enterprise Technology Development Program, which was a primary vehicle for undertaking basic research to enable planned missions and stimulate new mission concepts. The program addressed low-TRL development of technologies with application across multiple NASA enterprises to support the long-range strategic goals of the offices of space science, earth science, human exploration and development of space, and the office of the NASA chief technologist. It moved technology readiness from articulation of initial concept through laboratory field demonstration in 10 thrust areas: power and propulsion, aerial and space operations, sensors, distributed spacecraft, communications, micro-nano spacecraft, computational tools, surface systems, automation, and structures. A 1999 NRA led to more than 1,200 meritorious proposals from a wide range of investigators, indicating a large body of talent and ideas available to support the program. Funding limitations permitted only 111 awards, of which 56 went to universities, 10 to NASA field centers, 15 to FFRDCs, and 30 to industry. The committee is pleased to note the high percentage of awards to universities in this procurement, an open competition that had excellence and relevance to the NASA enterprises as key evaluation criteria. This bodes well for the university technology development infrastructure, an important prerequisite for successful PI-led missions. COMPUTATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES The Computational Technologies (CT) project addresses applications of massive parallel computing, at the teraflop level, to further understanding of and the ability to predict the dynamically interacting physical, chemical, and biological processes characteristic of Earth, the Sun, the solar system, and the broader universe. Applications of relevance to ESE include massive data management, data processing algorithms, and weather and climate modeling. The CT project is led by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and supported by JPL. Science teams are chosen to address problems related to the Grand Challenges, science and engineering problems that can be addressed with computational technology. Science Team III has 11 Grand Challenge Investigator Teams participating. Science Team I (1992-1996) had 8 teams (plus 21 guest teams) and Science Team II (1996-2000) had 9 teams. THE SMALL BUSINESS INNOVATION RESEARCH AND SMALL BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER PROGRAMS The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs provide opportunities for small high-technology companies and nonprofit research institutions (e.g., universities) to participate cooperatively in government-sponsored R&D efforts. Through annual solicitations NASA’s SBIR/ STTR program supports a wide range of technology development efforts with fixed-price awards up to $670,000. SBIR/STTR programs have had numerous successes. However, they must be approached with care by principal investigators when formulating cost- and schedule-constrained PI-led missions under programs like ESSP. The mission PI has limited influence over SBIR/STTR projects, which must be under the management control of the small business that holds the contract.