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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Executive Summary) Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science Executive Summary INTRODUCTION The continued advance of the nation's space program is directly dependent upon the development and use of new technology. Technology is the foundation for every aspect of space missions and ground operations. The improvements in technology that will enable future advances are not only in device and system performance, but also in permitting missions to be carried out more rapidly and at lower cost. Although more can be done with current technology, NASA's recent call for new and innovative approaches- should not be answered by employing only today's technologies; new technologies with revolutionary potential should be sought. The study reported here was performed to identify means to enhance the development of technologies for the space sciences and applications. (See Statement of Task, Appendix A.) In the summer of 1992, when this study was conducted, most exploratory REPORT MENU space technology development activities in NASA were concentrated in the Office NOTICE of Aeronautics and Space Technology (OAST). Space science and applications MEMBERSHIP activities were concentrated in NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications PREFACE (OSSA). The Committee on Space Science Technology Planning was assembled EXECUTIVE SUMMARY by the National Research Council's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board CHAPTER 1 (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) to carry out the study. The Committee CHAPTER 2 was convened in a week-long workshop in June 1992, and the preparation of the CHAPTER 3 study report continued thereafter. In October 1992, as this report was being CHAPTER 4 edited, a reorganization affecting NASA's science and technology offices was ACRONYMS announced. Despite the reorganization, however, the goals and responsibilities BIOGRAPHIES previously assigned to OSSA and OAST are likely to endure and the results of BIBLIOGRAPHY this study should prove useful to their successor organizations. All references to APPENDIX A OSSA and OAST should be taken to refer with equal facility to the past structure APPENDIX B or the successor organizations. APPENDIX C APPENDIX D APPENDIX E The Office of Aeronautics and Space Technology OAST has been charged with technology development in support of other file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasateches.htm (1 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:38:15 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Executive Summary) NASA entities, as well as for the nation's other civilian space activities. These responsibilities encompass, but also extend beyond, the needs of OSSA. Within OAST, funds are apportioned into a basic research program (the Base Program) and another program addressing specific future NASA missions (the Civil Space Technology Initiative or Focused Program). The funds in these programs represent the largest, most flexible, discretionary resources that NASA can apply to creating technology-derived opportunities for the future. In fiscal year (FY) 1992, $156 million was allocated to the Base Program and $150 million to the Focused Program. Of these, OAST estimates that $67.8 million in the Base Program and* $60.5 million in the Focused Program serve OSSA's needs. Obviously, the allocation of OAST's funds among technological opportunities and the oversight of selected development tasks should warrant careful attention from NASA management. The Integrated Technology Plan The Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program recommended to NASA: . . . that an agency-wide technology plan be developed with inputs from the Associate Administrators responsible for the major development programs, and that NASA utilize an expert, outside review process, managed from headquarters, to assist in the allocation of technology funds. In response to this recommendation, OAST prepared. the Integrated Technology Plan for the Civil Space Program (ITP). To begin the preparation of the ITP, OAST requested information regarding technology needs from each NASA mission office, including OSSA: The preparation of the ITP was a major effort that addressed the technology needs of all areas of NASA's space efforts, other government agencies, and the commercial space industry, as well as addressing past recommendations of advisory groups. The preparation of the ITP and its subsequent review by the NASA Space Systems and Technology Advisory Committee (SSTAC) were the principal elements leading to the current study. The Office of Space Science and Applications OSSA is responsible for directing the part of NASA that uses the unique characteristics of space to conduct scientific studies of the Earth, solar system, and universe; to study the effects of low gravity on sensitive systems; and for practical purposes. OSSA has six science divisions: Astrophysics, Space Physics, Earth Science and Applications, Solar System Exploration, Life Sciences, and Microgravity Science and Applications. The FY 1992 budget was file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasateches.htm (2 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:38:15 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Executive Summary) $2.728 billion. A relatively small fraction of these funds (by OSSA estimate, $48.8 million or 1.8 %) is devoted to advanced technology development; it supports the comparatively nearterm requirements of well-defined missions. To review the work of the science divisions and the related OAST support, the Committee employed four subcommittees: Astrophysics and Space Physics, Earth and Planetary Science, Life Sciences, and Microgravity Sciences. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS General NASA's new initiative for smaller, less expensive, and more frequent missions is not simply a response to budget pressures; it is a scientific and technical imperative. Efficient conduct of science and applications missions cannot be based solely upon intermittent, very large missions that require 10 to 20 years to complete. Mission time constants must be commensurate with the time constants of scientific understanding, competitive technological advances, and inherent changes in the systems under study (e.g., the Earth, its atmosphere, and oceans). This theme should be an important element of any agency-wide technology program. With the establishment of judicious priorities, the present level of support allocated to OAST and OSSA should be sufficient to formulate a modest but responsive technology development program based on the key unmet needs of NASA's diverse science programs. However, the fraction of agency resources (at most $177 million of $14.3 billion) devoted to reducing technological risk in its major space science and applications programs is small, and does not appear adequate to reduce future risk appreciably or to make sufficient new technological advances available. In spite of its pervasiveness and importance to NASA, there is no organized central control, information center, or focal point for all of NASA's technology development efforts, which now are spread throughout the agency. The NASA Administrator should act to establish a coordinating position with the clear responsibility to ensure cooperation between technology development efforts within different parts of NASA. An appropriate early task would be to extract information from the ITP to use in the formulation of an agency-wide working plan for technology for space science that is based on all of NASA's resources dedicated to this area. The OAST Focused Program Better mechanisms are needed to ensure the transfer of OAST-developed technology to OSSA's flight missions. No efficient means exist to overcome the file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasateches.htm (3 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:38:15 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Executive Summary) reluctance of OSSA managers to adopt unproven technology from OAST. Program and project managers are understandably hesitant to accept responsibility for completing technology development projects begun by OAST and to apply unproven new technologies to multi-million dollar science programs on an ad hoc basis. Better mechanisms are needed to ensure that the users of space technology maintain an investment in the OAST technology development efforts established to respond to their needs. OAST and OSSA divisions should agree during the earliest phases of each project initiated at OAST specifically in response to a science need how, and at what stage of development, transfer will occur. Throughout its programs OAST should bring increased rigor (including external review) to determining not only which projects should be initiated or continued but which should be canceled. In a flat or low-growth funding environment this process will be extremely important to promote the viability of a program to meet the needs of space science and applications. It is critical that new innovations be welcomed even within a program that is unable to grow. The OAST Base Program Because it is not configured to respond directly to the stated needs of user communities, the Base Program is not thoroughly described in the ITP and was not subject to in-depth scrutiny by the Committee. The Base Program serves both as a means to advance technology and to maintain organizational capability to perform space flight projects. The two are not necessarily compatible functions, attempting as they do to combine research excellence with sustenance of agency know-how. Special efforts should be made to make the work in the Base Program visible to the space science community so that latent capabilities can be captured and put to use wherever applicable. The program should be subject to more visible external review on a regular basis. As an investment of public resources, the quality of the Base Program must be scrutinized with the same intensity as the Focused Program. Responding to projected mission needs is important, but a portion of NASA's technology program must respond to new, even high-risk, ideas that may yield large advances. The avoidance of risk should not be elevated to such a position that innovative but unconventional concepts are summarily dismissed. The Integrated Technology Plan The preparation of the ITP was a commendable and much-needed first step. But the ITP is only agency-wide in terms of integrating inputs from all of the NASA mission offices. It is not agency-wide in terms of being an expression of the priorities of NASA as a whole. It represents the integration of inputs by one office among several, but does not reflect the authoritative merger and ranking of file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasateches.htm (4 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:38:15 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Executive Summary) these inputs by a management that oversees these offices of equal stature. In other words, it does not show the influence of the Office of the NASA Administrator or a relationship to a realistic agency-wide strategic plan. Further, the ITP is not a plan in the sense of a statement of technical objectives, schedules, and estimated costs for the chosen tasks--presumably within an approved or agency-proposed budget. Rather, the ITP is a prospectus of development tasks most of which cannot be undertaken within either the existing budget or any budget that is likely to be available, based on the experiences of the last decade. The Office of Space Science and Applications Technology development projects in OSSA are individually selected and undertaken by its divisions; there is no overarching OSSA technology development strategy or program. There is little consistency across the science divisions regarding technology development (criteria, process, etc.). While some divisions have done so, e.g., the Astrophysics Division, not all divisions of OSSA have established formal technology planning procedures or assigned responsibility for technology planning. For example, the Committee found no formal process within the Earth Science and Applications and Life Sciences Divisions and a largely informal process within the Solar System Exploration Division that appears to have little involvement with the planetary sciences community. Each OSSA division that has not yet done so should act to formalize technology planning responsibilities to identify, coordinate, and report relevant work within the division. OSSA divisions should consider empowering existing advisory working groups for particular scientific areas to identify technology needs, and contribute to their evaluation by examining subsequent sets of consolidated division-wide technology needs. Criteria were not presented to the Committee that could be used to determine which projects should be undertaken with OSSA divisions funds and which should be submitted to OAST for funding. In particular, it is not clear that the divisions have consistently requested technological assistance from OAST for their most basic technology problems. Finally, the overall fraction of OSSA resources devoted to promoting advanced technology development is too small ($48.8 million of $2.728 billion) to enhance capabilities, reduce risk, and make new technological advances available for future space science and applications initiatives. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasateches.htm (5 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:38:15 AM]