committee in the next months, and related findings and recommendations will be provided in the committee’s final report.
Some of the ETDP projects are carried out primarily within NASA centers. As a result, NASA is not taking advantage of expertise available in the university and industrial sectors that could support more rapid and higher-quality early research and development. The committee therefore concluded that the speed and efficiency with which NASA could move forward on these projects are being compromised.
The committee notes a general tendency toward an incremental approach to ETDP developments, with the bulk of ETDP funding going to incremental advances on existing technologies. The committee questions whether this approach can allow NASA to successfully undertake and accomplish the innovative research goals of the VSE, especially given that a lack of innovative research and development will discourage the entry of young researchers into the field and thus decrease the nation’s ability to build the future workforce needed to conduct the VSE.
Many of the technology development projects reviewed by the committee tended to focus on supporting near-term aspects of the VSE. Some were linked exclusively to Orion and Ares 1, and others to the lunar surface access module and lunar surface operations. The committee did not find evidence that the extensibility of technologies to the exploration of Mars is a routine consideration. A possible consequence is the development of technologies that will not be extensible to the full VSE, which was the criterion mandated by NASA for evaluation in this NRC review.
It was apparent that NASA is now funding much less research at low TRLs in-house and in the university community than in the past. The committee was not clear as to how, in the absence of low-TRL research, the technologies required over the next 10-30 years will be developed and made available for future programs, or how the future expertise required by both NASA and the contractor community will be generated. The significant reduction and/or termination of low-TRL research, and the concomitant lack of personnel to either conduct the research or apply it, will have major negative impacts on the ability of the United States to participate in future human exploration programs.
In a number of areas in the projects, mission-critical tests—i.e., a system or subsystem model or prototype demonstration in an operational environment—are not included, usually as a result of a lack of time (scheduling) and/or funding to carry out necessary flight tests or to develop needed test facilities. Specific examples were identified in the following projects: 02 Ablative Thermal Protection System for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, 03 Lunar Dust Mitigation, 05 Cryogenic Fluid Management, 09 Integrated Systems Health Management, 11 Intelligent Software Design, 12 Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance, 19 In Situ Resource Utilization, 20 Fission Surface Power, and 22 Human-Robotic Systems/Analogs. Not including these tests may limit the TRL to which the technologies can be advanced and may increase mission risk. Although near-term budgetary pressures are clear, the need for adequate testing is a recurrent theme in program failure reports and should be addressed.
These topics will be explored and commented on in more detail in the committee’s final report.
The committee hopes that the observations made in this interim report will contribute to the ultimate success of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program.