Executive Summary

Reducing the costs and improving the performance of future government and commercial activities in space will require continuing engineering research and technology development (ERTD). Because the space environment can be very difficult to simulate on Earth and many research and development activities can only be performed in space, Earth orbit will be the most effective location for some of this ERTD.

The International Space Station (ISS)—scheduled to be assembled in low Earth orbit (LEO) starting in 1997 —will be a valuable location for in-space ERTD. In addition to functioning as a laboratory in which research and development activities are conducted, the ISS itself could be the subject of ERTD experiments. The unique capabilities of the ISS as a space platform—including its relatively large electrical power capacity, pressurized volume, communications capability, external area, available crew time, and logistics capability—will enable it to support a wide variety of ERTD activities. However, ERTD experiments on the ISS will have to be carefully designed to meet the high safety standards and potentially complex integration requirements of a large crewed space platform.

USING THE ISS FOR ERTD

A broad spectrum of ERTD activities could be conducted on the ISS. While the station is being assembled, sensors could be used to measure the structure's dynamic response to perturbations. This would shed new light on the behavior of large structures in space and could lead to the development of lighter and more stable structures. Once the station is operational, designers of commercial



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Engineering Research and Technology Development on the Space Station Executive Summary Reducing the costs and improving the performance of future government and commercial activities in space will require continuing engineering research and technology development (ERTD). Because the space environment can be very difficult to simulate on Earth and many research and development activities can only be performed in space, Earth orbit will be the most effective location for some of this ERTD. The International Space Station (ISS)—scheduled to be assembled in low Earth orbit (LEO) starting in 1997 —will be a valuable location for in-space ERTD. In addition to functioning as a laboratory in which research and development activities are conducted, the ISS itself could be the subject of ERTD experiments. The unique capabilities of the ISS as a space platform—including its relatively large electrical power capacity, pressurized volume, communications capability, external area, available crew time, and logistics capability—will enable it to support a wide variety of ERTD activities. However, ERTD experiments on the ISS will have to be carefully designed to meet the high safety standards and potentially complex integration requirements of a large crewed space platform. USING THE ISS FOR ERTD A broad spectrum of ERTD activities could be conducted on the ISS. While the station is being assembled, sensors could be used to measure the structure's dynamic response to perturbations. This would shed new light on the behavior of large structures in space and could lead to the development of lighter and more stable structures. Once the station is operational, designers of commercial

OCR for page 1
Engineering Research and Technology Development on the Space Station communications satellites could use the ISS as a test bed to characterize the on-orbit performance of communications systems or to experiment with deployable antenna designs. The materials used on the exterior of the ISS, as well as test specimens of other materials, could be monitored to build up a database on the long-term behavior of materials in the LEO environment. Numerous other examples of ERTD that could be conducted on the ISS are described in chapter 3. Although NASA has a well articulated strategy that meshes well with current fiscal and political realities, this strategy is not yet well connected to plans to conduct ERTD on the ISS. NASA should, therefore, immediately begin to develop a “road map” for ERTD on the ISS. Engineering and technological goals that support the elements of NASA's overall vision relevant to ERTD should be developed by the agency in cooperation with industry, universities, and other government agencies and should be used to guide NASA's program offices and centers in determining which ERTD experiments are needed and should be supported. The road map should be distributed widely, revisited periodically, and subject to review by external constituencies. Although some road map goals should be achievable through straightforward extensions of current practices, others should be ambitious, achievable only through the development of new technologies. To encourage the development of advanced technologies in the ISS program, a major goal of NASA's road map for ERTD on the ISS should be to reduce the operations and maintenance (O&M) costs of the ISS through the infusion of new technology. The savings from reduced O&M costs should be used to pay for additional technological developments to further reduce O&M costs in the later years of the station. A mechanism is needed to ensure that individual ERTD activities funded by NASA support progress on the technology road map. This mechanism must be impartial, not necessarily favor NASA experiments over equally worthy outside experiments, and must ensure that experiments selected for funding reflect the state of the art. The mechanism that would best meet these requirements is external peer review. NASA-funded ERTD research should, wherever possible, be reviewed by independent panels with representatives from NASA, the academic community, and industry to ensure that the technology road map is a major factor in deciding which experiments should be funded. Peer review, of course, cannot be used in all circumstances. Other mechanisms, such as auctions and project manager decisions, will often be more appropriate for commercially oriented and mission-driven ERTD. FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER ERTD researchers who work outside NASA currently face unnecessary procedural obstacles in getting their experiments into space, and the support provided to them by NASA centers is uneven. To ensure efficient ERTD on the ISS, NASA must strive to treat ERTD experimenters as customers rather than contractors

OCR for page 1
Engineering Research and Technology Development on the Space Station and to minimize the obstacles they face. As a key step in this effort, NASA should establish a single organization to work with researchers interested in conducting ERTD experiments on the ISS and other space platforms. This organization should assist experimenters in developing experiments for space and in meeting safety and integration rules. The organization should also act as an integration and safety ombudsman for experimenters. In another step toward facilitating ERTD on the ISS, the technical interfaces between the ISS and the experimenters should be examined to ensure that, except where differences are absolutely necessary, the interfaces are similar to interfaces in ground-based laboratories. Such interfaces would allow experimenters to use more off-the-shelf hardware, which would increase the reliability of experiments, reduce costs, and simplify troubleshooting. Because ground-based laboratories regularly incorporate new support equipment with new interfaces, it will be necessary to upgrade ISS laboratory support equipment on a regular basis. ISS facilities for supporting ERTD should thus be modular, support a wide variety of experiments, and be simple to upgrade over time with off-the-shelf software and hardware. The needs of ERTD experimenters have had little effect on the design of the ISS so far, but it is not too late to make a number of small design modifications that would greatly facilitate ERTD on the station. Of course, the ISS is in a late stage of design, and disruptive changes must be avoided. Nevertheless, a relatively small investment, made now, could yield significant long-term payoffs for both the space program and the nation. The NASA administrator should immediately convene a rapid-response group to determine which modifications of the ISS to support ERTD should be given the highest priority (in terms of costs and benefits). One of the first things this group should do is to review the adequacy of plans to (1) instrument the ISS for structural dynamics and space environment research, and (2) embed fiber-optic cable throughout the ISS to facilitate future communication upgrades. Suggestions by this group should be implemented by NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology in cooperation with the Office of Space Flight. ENSURING BENEFITS TO THE NATION ERTD on the ISS could yield broad benefits to the nation. To realize these benefits, however, NASA should strive to ensure that the results of government-funded ISS ERTD are incorporated in commercial space efforts, in the ISS and other government space endeavors, and in terrestrial applications. NASA has developed an extensive technology transfer program, but the agency should enhance this program by making available an on-line database of ERTD results, initiating an active effort to improve links between ISS ERTD and potential users, and encouraging exchanges of experts among NASA, industry, and universities. In addition, NASA should assist contractors in

OCR for page 1
Engineering Research and Technology Development on the Space Station commercializing the technologies they develop for the ISS program. Because many firms do not have the resources to commercialize technologies on their own, NASA should begin a pilot program to use multidisciplinary expert review panels to help companies commercialize new technologies. The Department of Defense, federal laboratories, like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and other federal agencies have successfully used such panels to bring technologies to the market. Commercially funded ERTD on the ISS that leads to new or improved products could also yield benefits to the economy. NASA's current plans for commercial use of the station, however, do not include ERTD and seem more likely to support subsidized research than to result in commercial uses. Currently, NASA itself decides which experiments appear most likely to produce commercially viable results. The agency should let commercial firms make these decisions. A certain percentage (perhaps 15 percent) of ISS resources available to U.S. experimenters—including internal and external experiment accommodations—should be auctioned, in two or three lots, to the highest bidders. The winning bidders could then use the resources themselves or market them to other commercial users. ERTD on the ISS could also benefit the nation by motivating and training a new generation of engineering and technology students. In the course of their professional lives, these students will infuse the knowledge and skills they acquire into government and commercial space programs as well as into terrestrial applications. To support these students, measures should be taken to ensure that ERTD on the ISS helps educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. This might mean reserving some internal and external payload accommodations with simple interfaces for student experiments or encouraging NASA-funded ERTD projects to involve undergraduate and graduate research assistants.