. "4 Management and Execution of the Exploration Technology Development Program." A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2008.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program
However, the committee found that the program operates within significant constraints. In an effort to be responsive to the needs of the Constellation Program, the ETDP has accepted schedule targets for deliverables that are, in some cases, quite aggressive. The ETDP has constructed an annual review process in which the flight program management recommends initiation, termination, and reprioritization of ETDP project elements. The Constellation Program itself is still undergoing change, however, which introduces a level of instability into the ETDP and which many managers find creates challenges to meeting overall goals.
The ETDP also operates within a highly constrained budget, which has been diminishing annually. The fiscal year (FY) 2005 budget, the first budget prepared after the establishment of the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), called for $1,093.7 million in FY 2005, ramping up to $1,386 million by FY 2008. The actual FY 2008 budget is $326 million, with a planned reduction in FY 2009 to $244.1 million.2 Not unlike other aspects of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) program, the agency has high expectations for a rather tightly constrained budget.
The ETDP operates under the current NASA management policy of “ten healthy centers,” that is, the work of NASA should be preferentially assigned to the NASA center civil service workforce and that all 10 NASA centers should be engaged in the main programs of NASA, to which exploration is central. The application of this policy has had the beneficial effect of drawing in the appropriate centers of NASA and the expertise of its personnel. In fact, the committee was genuinely impressed at the degree of intercenter involvement and cooperation evident in the ETDP. In many cases the most appropriate place for this technology development is within NASA because of its unique capabilities, infrastructure, and skills, but there are other cases in which academia, research laboratories, or industry might be better suited to perform the research. Especially when coupled to near-term schedule demands, the annual planning cycle, and the tight budget, NASA’s current policy tends to exclude the productive engagement of others in the nation who could contribute to the research effort.
Finding 2 on Program Context: The ETDP is operating within significant constraints. These constraints include the still-dynamic nature of the requirements handed over from the Constellation Program; the constraints imposed by a limited budget, both from a historical perspective and relative to the larger exploration goals; the aggressive timescale of early technology deliverables; and the desire within NASA to fully employ the NASA workforce at its “ten healthy centers.” These constraints have posed many management and programmatic challenges, which in some cases have impeded the efficiency and effectiveness of the ETDP.
The close coupling of the ETDP to the needs of the Constellation Program represents a strategy for technology development at one extreme end of the spectrum of approaches to the management of technology approaches. The ETDP is almost indistinguishable from a totally contained, closely coupled, supporting technology program that might be found within the Constellation Program itself. In fact, the committee often found it difficult to understand why the bookkeeping for some projects handled within the ETDP and that for other projects of seemingly equal timescale and technology readiness was done within the Constellation Program. Also, without insight into all of the technologies being developed within the Constellation Program itself, the committee could not evaluate these efforts and how they are coupled with the ETDP to meet VSE goals.
At the opposite end of the technology management spectrum is the model of an advanced technology program, including preliminary and innovative research at a low TRL, which could be conducted at universities, at NASA centers, and in industrial research centers. Such investments often develop new enabling approaches, which are then matured through low-to-mid-TRL projects (similar to those found in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in order to assess their actual impact on eventual flight systems. The conventional wisdom, reflected for example in the FY 2005 exploration technology program, is to have a balanced portfolio of low-, low-to-mid-, and mid-level-TRL projects.3 Generally in this model, most of the projects in a balanced portfolio are toward the low end of the spectrum owing to relatively low per project cost, but the larger fraction of the budget is usually