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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Chapter 4) Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science 4 General Findings and Recommendations GENERAL FINDINGS 1. The development of the Integrated Technology Plan has been an extraordinary undertaking and is a good first step towards improving OAST's approach to the development of technology for OSSA. The technology needs of the entire U.S. civil space program never before have been assembled and reviewed as they were in the ITP. However, the ITP does not lay out a plan for optimally addressing those needs with OAST's current budget. Furthermore, the ITP represents OAST's response to requested inputs, but does not reflect an agency-wide plan approved and backed by the NASA Administrator for the strategic application of NASA's sizable resources throughout the agency dedicated REPORT MENU to aspects of technology development. NOTICE MEMBERSHIP With respect to technology for space science and applications, the PREFACE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY weaknesses in the ITP lie in what is not there rather than what is. OSSA CHAPTER 1 has not consistently requested technological assistance with some of its CHAPTER 2 most basic technology problems (e.g., technologies supporting earth CHAPTER 3 observations and basic laboratory research onboard Space Station CHAPTER 4 Freedom). ACRONYMS BIOGRAPHIES 2. Although the ITP is a step in the right direction, NASA has not yet BIBLIOGRAPHY developed processes for gathering, evaluating, and selecting APPENDIX A possible technology development projects comparable to the APPENDIX B systematic means it has used for scientific experiments for the last APPENDIX C 30 years. APPENDIX D APPENDIX E OSSA methods for gathering scientific technology needs vary from division to division, and neither OSSA nor OAST presented a coherent methodology for evaluating and ranking combined technology needs. Both groups need systematic methods to numerically score space file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasatechch4.htm (1 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:39:05 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Chapter 4) science technology needs on agreed-upon criteria (such as "engineering leverage," "cost leverage," and "breadth of application" in OAST's stated prioritization criteria) and to make them comparable to one another through a composite score. This type of technique is used by OSSA in the selection of science experiments and has worked well. The coordination of technology development work at OAST with OSSA division programs has suffered because once the submission of technology needs to OSSA (and eventually to OAST) has taken place there are limited measures in place for continuing scientific community involvement in subsequent decisions and projects. 3. The organizational depth of the interaction between OSSA and OAST occurs primarily at the level of OSSA divisions and the OAST Space Technology Directorate. The degree of interaction varies widely from one OSSA division to another. For example, there has been no discernable interaction in the life sciences, there appears to be an onset of interaction in the microgravity sciences, and there has been an ongoing interface in astrophysics. While the Committee was often reminded that OSSA and OAST managers were determined to improve communications to ensure an effective development process, there were few examples of the actual science users and technology developers teaming to insure a favorable result. The process of technology development could be enhanced, in many cases, by increased interaction between developers, users, and researchers. 4. There is a wide disparity in the efforts of the OSSA divisions to determine their technology needs and act to address those needs. For example, the Astrophysics Division has committed significant resources to establishing its technology' needs, while the Life Sciences, Space Physics, and Earth Sciences and Applications Divisions do not appear to have done so. 5. OSSA's technology needs will be affected by NASA's potential paradigm shift toward "faster, cheaper, better" missions, including a shift of emphasis from big missions to more frequent access to space via smaller, more flexible, and more repeatable, missions. Because previous ITP projections were based on existing mission models, new projections will be necessary to promote more frequent and affordable missions. The Committee found little evidence of such requirements being identified by either office, although subsequent information indicates awareness within the science and technology communities of these new needs. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasatechch4.htm (2 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:39:05 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Chapter 4) 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. 6. In spite of its pervasiveness and importance to NASA, there is no organized central control, information center, or focal point for NASA's technology development efforts. OAST, OSSA, and other NASA mission offices have completely independent technology development programs. While the Committee does not believe that these disparate activities should be consolidated, it does believe that technologists should be cognizant of related efforts sponsored by other NASA offices. Furthermore, since NASA has not had the direction that would come from an agency-wide strategic plan, OAST has been forced to try to determine the agency's aims solely by (1) polling the users of technology, and (2) incorporating a full-time OAST staff member in OSSA activities. 7. With the establishment of judicious priorities, the present level of support allocated to OAST and OSSA by NASA should be sufficient to formulate, and to initiate the implementation of, a relatively small 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—1.2 percent) devoted to reducing technological risk in its major space science and applications programs is small. It does not appear adequate to reduce appreciably future risk or to seize many of the opportunities available to push the frontiers of technology. 8. NASA and external users of technology are not well acquainted with the capabilities of, and constraints on, OAST. The OAST Space Technology budget is large in absolute terms, but small relative to its mandate to meet the technology needs of the U.S. civil space program and maintain crucial technical capabilities. Even if OAST devoted half of its current resources to specific space science needs, many worthwhile areas of research would not be addressed. On the other hand, OAST should make special efforts to work more closely with OSSA divisions to maximize the efficiency of NASA-internal work and increase use of the capabilities of universities to address NASA's long-term file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasatechch4.htm (3 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:39:05 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Chapter 4) technology needs. GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS 1. The NASA Administrator or OAST Associate Administrator should act to establish a coordinating position with the clear responsibility to ensure cooperation between technology development efforts within different parts of NASA—from early research through the various stages of technology development and readiness. 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. Such a plan would make visible NASA's many autonomous projects and foster an improved ability to evaluate and coordinate projects. 2. As NASA acts to improve its programs through the use of new or improved technologies, an emphasis should be placed on technologies with the potential to reduce end-to-end mission costs. Savings in real cost will enable more frequent access to space. Designing missions to be "faster, better, and cheaper" has the potential to improve NASA's performance in developing new technology for space science and should be put to the test in cases where significant scientific objectives can be met by spacecraft built on these principles. 3. 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 maintain the viability of a space science technology program. . 4. Each OSSA division should endeavor to work closely with OAST in order to be involved in, or cognizant of, OAST's projects relevant to their technology needs. Stronger direction must come from top and middle managers regarding liaison between OSSA divisions and OAST focussed program efforts. Liaison groups, including staff from NASA centers, should be encouraged to identify and focus on high priority, feasible joint actions. Furthermore, additional OAST technical personnel could be assigned to OSSA programs on a part-time basis to provide for an ongoing exchange of technical information between the two offices. A possible pilot program for developing closer liaison is OSSA's highly technology-dependent Earth Observing System. 5. Since industry is heavily involved in the development of spacecraft and systems, and university scientists are heavily involved in the development of space instruments and sensors, OAST should increase the inclusion of representatives who are external to NASA file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasatechch4.htm (4 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:39:05 AM]

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Improving NASA's Technology for Space Science (Chapter 4) in the early evaluation of users' technology needs and goals. 6. The OAST base program projects in support of space science should be subjected to more visible external review on a regular basis. OSSA representatives should be included with university and industry representatives in the review teams for relevant projects. The inclusion of OSSA staff and members of the outside scientific community could contribute to a sense of investment in the OAST program in those it aims to serve, and facilitate the ultimate transfer of new technology to users. 7. NASA should act to broaden the foundation of its research base by increasing the direct involvement of university research laboratories in the development of technology for space science. A specific emphasis should be on encouraging significant "enabling" developments rather than using universities to do work normally done by contractors. 8. OSSA should consider earmarking a modest level of funding for use at OAST on mutually agreed-upon projects. However, the Committee does not believe that the budget currently allocated to the OAST Space Technology Directorate should be transferred to OSSA and the other user groups inside NASA. The expertise, capability, and promise that would be lost by dissolving OAST's space technology effort would be difficult to compensate for by gains elsewhere. 9. 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. Each should consider the development of a plan for technology that is integrated with its Strategic Plan, consistent with its programs, and approved by its director. 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. file:///C|/SSB_old_web/nasatechch4.htm (5 of 6) [6/18/2004 11:39:05 AM]