Finding on Testing: The present ETDP lacks an integrated, systematic test program. Of particular importance is that several ETDP projects, as currently formulated, do not include mission-critical tests—that is, system or subsystem model or prototype demonstrations in an operational environment—that are needed to advance the technology to TRL 6.
A key facility currently missing is a large-scale, combined thermal, vacuum, and dust simulator, which is required for three ETDP projects (Lunar Dust Mitigation, In Situ Resource Utilization, and Human-Robotic Systems/Analogs). A flight test of the Orion reentry heat shield that is required to advance the technology to TRL 6 is not in the present Ablative Thermal Protection System for the Crew Exploration Vehicle project.
Recommendation on Testing: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate should evaluate its test capabilities and develop a comprehensive overall integrated test and validation plan for all Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) projects. All ETDP projects should be reviewed for the absence of key tests (ground and/or flight), especially those that are required to advance key technologies to TRL 6. Where new facilities or flight tests are required, conceptual designs for the facilities or flight tests should be developed in order to establish plans and resource requirements needed to include the necessary testing in all ETDP projects.
The committee was deeply cognizant of its responsibility to provide a careful, fair, and balanced, albeit rapid, review of the ETDP in order to ensure that this nation may fully participate in the future of human space exploration. In the process of reviewing 22 advanced technology projects within the ETDP, it became acutely apparent to the committee that (1) this was the primary technology development program for human exploration within NASA, and (2) many program and project managers had made and were making decisions based not on the advantage of best practice on a blank page but based instead on declining budgets and constrained schedules.
The ETDP technical and programmatic leaders should focus on the broader messages of this review: that the technology development program must be robust at all TRL levels, whether residing in the ETDP or not; that the external community must be engaged and made use of for its expertise and its support; that testing at the required TRLs must be implemented to ensure mission success and crew safety; that the “human system” should be a well-recognized and well-documented component of all of the technology development programs; and that each project should be easily recognized by all members of the development team as part of an integrated agency strategy that can be effectively communicated to the external community.
Many historical technology development lessons learned from the Apollo, space shuttle, and ISS programs apply to the ETDP. Therefore the ETDP has the opportunity to integrate the successful technology development strategies and lessons learned from NASA’s past as well as from current benchmark programs within other agencies.
While the committee has offered findings and related recommendations that are designed to develop a forward path for success, the dedication and commitment of the men and women of the Exploration Technology Development Program are not questioned and must be recognized. NASA, in its 50th year, has a proud legacy and has shaped the history of human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit. It has the opportunity to continue to do so, but only with the necessary strategies, tools, and support required by its technical and programmatic leaders to accomplish those goals.
The committee hopes that the observations, findings, and recommendations offered in this report will contribute to the ultimate success of the ETDP, and through the ETDP to the success of the nation’s space exploration program.