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Grading NASA's Solar System Exploration Program: A Midterm Report (2008)

Chapter: Appendix D: NASA Technology Readiness Levels

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: NASA Technology Readiness Levels." National Research Council. 2008. Grading NASA's Solar System Exploration Program: A Midterm Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12070.
Page 84
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: NASA Technology Readiness Levels." National Research Council. 2008. Grading NASA's Solar System Exploration Program: A Midterm Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12070.
Page 85

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D NASA Technology Readiness Levels Technology readiness levels (TRLs) are a systematic metric/measurement system that supports assessments of the maturity of a particular technology and the consistent comparison of maturity between different types of technology. TRLs were first introduced by NASA in the 1980s and initially included seven levels. The system was expanded, in a 1995 white paper, to include nine levels. Table D.1 summarizes each TRL. TABLE D.1  Summary of NASA Technology Readiness Levels Level Summary Description TRL 1 Basic principle This is the lowest level of technology maturation. At this level, scientific research begins to be observed and translated into applied research and development. Examples might include studies of basic properties reported of materials (e.g., tensile strength as a function of temperature for a new fiber). TRL 2 Technology Once basic physical principles are observed, at the next level of maturation practical applications concept and/or of those characteristics can be invented or identified. For example, following the observation of application high critical temperature superconductivity, potential applications of the new material for thin-film formulated devices (e.g., superconductor-insulator-superconductor mixers) and in instrument systems (e.g., telescope sensors) can be defined. At this level, the application is still speculative: there is not experimental proof or detailed analysis to support the conjecture. TRL 3 Analytical and At this step in the maturation process, active research and development (R&D) is initiated. These experimental studies and experiments should constitute “proof-of-concept” validation of the applications/concepts critical formulated at TRL 2. For example, a concept for high energy density matter (HEDM) propulsion formula and/or might depend on slush or supercooled hydrogen as a propellant: TRL 3 might be attained when the characteristic concept-enabling phase/temperature/pressure for the fluid was achieved in a laboratory. proof of concept TRL 4 Component and/ Following successful proof-of-concept work, basic technological elements must be integrated to or breadboard establish that the “pieces” will work together to achieve concept-enabling levels of performance for validation in a component and/or breadboard. For example, a TRL 4 demonstration of a new fuzzy logic approach laboratory to avionics might consist of testing the algorithms in a partially computer-based, partially bench-top environment component (e.g., fiber-optic gyros) demonstration in a controls laboratory using simulated vehicle inputs. John C. Mankins, Advanced Concepts Office, Office of Space Access and Technology, NASA, Technology Readiness Levels, A White Paper, April 6, 1995. 84

APPENDIX D 85 TABLE D.1  Continued Level Summary Description TRL 5 Component and/ At this level, the fidelity of the component and/or breadboard being tested must increase or breadboard significantly. The basic technological elements must be integrated with reasonably realistic validation supporting elements so that the total applications (component-level, subsystem-level, or system- in relevant level) can be tested in a simulated or somewhat realistic environment. From one to several new environment technologies might be involved in the demonstration. For example, a new type of solar photovoltaic material promising higher efficiencies would at this level be used in an actual fabricated solar array “blanket” that would be integrated with power supplies, supporting structure, and so on, and tested in a thermal vacuum chamber with solar simulation capability. TRL 6 System/ At TRL 6, a representative model or system prototype or system would be tested in a relevant subsystem model environment. At this level, if the only relevant environment is the environment of space, then or prototype the model/prototype must be demonstrated in space. Not all technologies will undergo a TRL 6 demonstration demonstration: at this point the maturation step is driven more by assuring management confidence in a relevant than by R&D requirements. For example, an innovative approach to high-temperature/low-mass environment radiators, involving liquid droplets and composite materials, would be demonstrated to TRL 6 (ground or space) by actually flying a working, subscale (but scaleable) model of the system on a space shuttle or International Space Station pallet. In this example, the reason that this space is the relevant environment is that microgravity plus vacuum plus thermal environment effects will dictate the success or failure of the system—and the only way to validate the technology is in space. TRL 7 System prototype TRL 7 is a significant step beyond TRL 6, requiring an actual system prototype demonstration in demonstration a space environment. It has not always been implemented in the past. In this case, the prototype in a space should be near or at the scale of the planned operational system, and the demonstration must take environment place in space. TRL 7 would normally only be performed in cases where the technology and/or subsystem application is mission-critical and relatively high-risk. Example: The Mars Pathfinder Rover is a TRL 7 technology demonstration for future Mars micro-rovers based on that system design. Example: X-vehicles are TRL 7, as are the demonstration projects planned in the New Millennium spacecraft program. TRL 8 Actual system In almost all cases, this level is the end of true system development for most technology elements. completed and Example: This would include design, development, testing, and evaluation through Theoretical First “flight qualified” Unit (TFU) for a new reusable launch vehicle. This might include integration of new technology through test and into an existing system. Example: Loading and testing successfully a new control algorithm into the demonstration onboard computer on Hubble Space Telescope while in orbit. (ground or space) TRL 9 Actual system In almost all cases, the end of last “bug-fixing” aspects of true system development. For example, “flight proven” small fixes/changes to address problems found following launch (through “30 days” or some related through date). This might include integration of new technology into an existing system (such as operating a successful new artificial intelligence tool into operational mission control at Johnson Space Center). This TRL mission does not include planned product improvement of ongoing or reusable systems. For example, a new operations engine for an existing reusable launch vehicle would not start at TRL 9: such technology upgrades would start over at the appropriate level in the TRL system. SOURCE: Adapted from John C. Mankins, Advanced Concepts Office, Office of Space Access and Technology, NASA, Technology Readiness Levels, A White Paper, April 6, 1995.

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The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 directed the agency to ask the NRC to assess the performance of each division in the NASA Science directorate at five-year intervals. In this connection, NASA requested the NRC to review the progress the Planetary Exploration Division has made in implementing recommendations from previous, relevant NRC studies. This book provides an assessment of NASA's progress in fulfilling those recommendations including an evaluation how well it is doing and of current trends. The book covers key science questions, flight missions, Mars exploration, research and analysis, and enabling technologies. Recommendations are provided for those areas in particular need of improvement.

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