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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program 4 Management and Execution of the Exploration Technology Development Program The previous chapter outlined gaps in the substance of what the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) should be doing in addition to its existing projects; this chapter deals largely with how the program is managed and executed and how that process could be improved. Following its review of the context of the ETDP, the committee examines four topics: the program management and implementation methodology, the balance between near-term and far-term technology investment, the involvement of the broader community, and the need for testing in the development program. The committee reviewed the presentations offered by ETDP management, the formal project plans of each of the 22 ETDP projects, and other overviews of the program, including “The Exploration Technology Development Program” and “Technology Infusion Planning Within the Exploration Technology Development Program.”1 In general, the committee found a thoughtful and well-designed planning and administrative process that seeks to accomplish the following: Identify the benefit of a new technology to the flight element, Set requirements for the technology, Develop the new technology to a technology readiness level (TRL) of 6, and Programmatically infuse the outcomes of the technology development into the design and development cycle of the flight element. CONTEXT OF THE PROGRAM Finding 1 on Program Context: In general, the ETDP is making progress toward its stated goals. It has a technology development planning process responsive to the needs of the Constellation Program, and if adequately and stably funded and executed in a manner consistent with the planning process, the ETDP would probably make the required technology available on schedule to its customers in the Constellation Program. 1 C. Moore and F. Peri, “The Exploration Technology Development Program,” AIAA Paper 2007-136 in 45th Aerospace Sciences Meeting Conference Proceedings, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Reston, Va., 2007; D.C. Beals, “Technology Infusion Planning Within the Exploration Technology Program,” IEEEAC Paper #1108, 2007, available at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/4161231/4144550/04161576.pdf.
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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 2 See http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55408main_25%20HRT.pdf and http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/210019main_NASA_FY09_Budget_Estimates.pdf pg Exp-75. 3 NASA FY 2005 Budget Request, p. EC 2-1.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program allocated the more mature end of the spectrum due to the scope of these efforts. As an example, in the current Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, about 20 percent of the total funds are invested in low-TRL projects.4 The ETDP manager informed the committee that NASA management has made a deliberate decision to “balance” the space technology budget of the agency entirely toward the mid-TRL range, with the intent of maturing technologies that have already reached at least TRL 3 (in a few isolated cases TRL 2) to TRL 6 in order to meet the near- and mid-term needs of the Constellation Program.5 Given that the ETDP is the primary space technology program in NASA as pointed out at the beginning of Chapter 3, it is important to consider whether the scope of ETDP funding is sufficient to support the robust technology development necessary to “explore and to support decisions about…destinations” as called for by the VSE and to preserve the “role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology,” as called for by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as amended. It is not clear to the committee that the near- to mid-term supporting technology focus of the ETDP can sustain either the role of supporting “decisions about…destinations” or the broader leadership of the U.S. in space. This investment strategy has effectively eliminated the low-TRL, long-term technology investments of NASA. Other than unsolicited proposals and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), there is no effective mechanism to propose or fund such efforts. For example, while there have been several focused NASA Research Announcements issued under the ETDP, there has not been a call for broad technology. Such a request would invite a broader set of proposed technologies that could benefit NASA in the short, medium, or long term. If unsolicited proposals were received in the current environment, they would be reviewed by NASA center personnel with no or extremely limited discretionary budgets to fund them. From the perspective of recent history, this shift in policy has also caused some entire areas of the NASA technology effort to become unfunded. For example, as recently as the FY 2003 budget, NASA funded a robust program in a wide variety of technologies, such as advanced information systems and synthetic design environments. Since the FY 2005 budget, areas such as system engineering methods and nuclear thermal propulsion have been eliminated. No funding for these areas is contained in the current ETDP or anywhere else within NASA. Finding 3 on Program Context: The ETDP has become NASA’s principal space technology program. It is highly focused and is structured as a supporting technology program to the Constellation Program, designed to advance technologies at TRL 3 and above toward TRL 6. Because of this shift toward the relatively mature end of the technology investment spectrum, which is very closely coupled to the near-term needs of the Constellation Program, NASA has also in effect suspended research in a number of technology areas traditionally within the agency’s scope, and it has in many areas essentially ended support for longer-term (TRL 1-2) technology research. PROGRAM MANAGEMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION METHODOLOGY The ETDP spans the full panorama of elements that are part of large-systems design, planning, and engineering—from requirements, risk mitigation, and allocation to systems testing. It is thus imperative that sound systems engineering principles be applied across the management of the ETDP itself.6 Three main areas in which the committee developed findings that relate to effective systems engineering and management of the ETDP are operational risk reduction, requirements control, and effective technology transfer. The ETDP has a well-designed approach to managing the programmatic risk of its own technology development. It is necessary, however, to consider the impact of ETDP technologies on the Constellation Program, on engineering, and on human health risks for crewed space systems, which interact in a variety of complicated and 4 Jay M. Cohen, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, September 14, 2006, p. 6. 5 See the presentation of Frank Peri, Program Manager, ETDP, NASA, to the committee, October 10-11, 2007, in Washington D.C., included as Appendix H of this report. 6 See NASA, NASA Systems Engineering Handbook—2007 Revision, NASA/SP-2007 6105 Rev1, NASA, Washington, D.C. The committee agrees with the principles put forth in this document, particularly in Appendix G, “Technology Insertion.”
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program sometimes subtle ways. A continuous systems approach is required to anticipate the potential interactions and impacts of risk mitigation in one area (e.g., engineering risk reduction for a component) on risk in a seemingly unrelated area (e.g., human health). Ideally, this systems approach to risk should be applied at all levels, from the most minute components to the overall system in its broadest context, in order to anticipate and identify interactions among sources of risk and approaches to risk mitigation. Human systems integration (called human-centered design in the NASA Human Research Program [HRP]) is also an integral part of the systems engineering of human and operational risk. The use of the term “human systems integration” (or “human-centered design”) in this report and its application to operational risk reduction are inclusive of both human health risk and human factors considerations for operations. The key to a successful technology development program for space exploration is to ensure that human considerations are integrated into the full range of systems design, development, manufacturing, operations, sustainment, and disposal. The complex trade-offs between the human discipline areas and the full integration of the attributes produced by these trade-offs are essential if systems are to be truly usable and maintainable.7 The application of systems engineering processes and best practices using an integrated systems approach to technology management and transition is needed. In the words of a recent NRC report: The link between humans and engineering is essential for enhancing mission success and crew performance. For example, Callaghan et al. (1992) observed that the development of methods was as important as the development of standards. Similarly, Whitmore et al. (1999) indicated that the first research priority for the ISS should be in-flight research tools to understand habitability. The second priority was to identify human factors critical to habitability and determine how these could be tested in microgravity and analog environments. Adams (1999) also emphasized the need for habitability studies. Other researchers have highlighted the importance of human systems integration. Peacock et al. (2001), for example, identified the following technology issues for manned space missions: (1) limitations to astronaut mobility and force output while wearing extravehicular activity (EVA) clothing, (2) need for physical restraints and mobility aids in microgravity, and (3) maintaining spatial orientation. The need for enhanced human–robot interactions was identified by Gross et al. (2002), and Hartman (2003) identified the human systems interaction considerations associated with the Martian weather, which includes temperature extremes (−87°C to −25°C) and windstorms that will cause dust to lodge in seams and crevices and reduce visibility to less than 1 meter at times, all in an atmosphere that is almost pure CO2, with a barometric pressure that is 1 percent that of Earth’s surface (about equivalent to the pressure at 110,000 feet above Earth).8 Another domain of risk is associated with system reliability. From a systems engineering perspective, missions to the Moon have historically been of short duration, and therefore systems and components were not expected to break down during the missions—that is, technology was not pushed to meet extended reliability requirements. For long-duration missions, however, component failure has a higher probability. The entire issue of the replacement of broken parts and components must be addressed as part of the risk allocation for architectures under consideration. Selecting an appropriate balance of methods to replace parts and components may ensure significant cost savings (see the discussion in the assessment of the Supportability project in Chapter 2). Reflecting on the potential subtle interactions among risks and their mitigation, the significant sources of risk arising from human system design, and the additional sources of risk such as long-duration reliability, the committee did not observe a systematic approach to the management of the impact of technology on Constellation programmatic, operational, and human health risk. Finding 1 on Management: Although the ETDP has a well-conceived process for managing the programmatic risk of its own technology development, the committee found a lack of clarity in the way that the ETDP accounts for the contributions of its technology developments to reducing exploration (i.e., Constellation) program risk, to reducing operational and human health risks, and to considering human-design-factor issues in operations. 7 National Research Council, Human-System Integration in the Systems Development Process: A New Look, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007. 8 National Research Council, A Risk Reduction Strategy for Human Exploration of Space: A Review of NASA’s Bioastronautics Roadmap, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, p. 36.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program The ETDP has a formal process for handing requirements from the customer (i.e., elements of the Constellation Program) to the technology deliverer (i.e., projects within the ETDP). These requirements are recorded in the 22 ETDP project plans. Operational risk passes to the ETDP projects through the requirements passed down from the Constellation Program. The management of programmatic risk in the development of technologies is addressed in Section 8 of each project plan, without reference to how these risks interact with one another and with the engineering and human health risks associated with the technologies. The committee therefore found significant uncertainty regarding how the requirements were established and interpreted. For example, reduction and allocation of operational risk are not treated uniformly among the 22 projects. Some projects are associated with minimizing “allocated risks.” Examples include the Energy Storage project, which has as its objective reducing risks associated with lithium batteries, fuel cells, and regenerative cells; and the project on Automated Rendezvous and Docking sensors, which has as its objective reducing risks associated with alternative navigation sensors. Other projects are charged with qualitative risk reduction but do not have quantitative goals—for example, the Fire Prevention, Detection, and Suppression project, which has as one of its goals “minimizing the risk to crew, mission and system.” Still other projects have no role in operational risk reduction but are focusing instead on new capabilities—for example, the Radiation-Hardened Electronics for Space Environments (RHESE) project, which has as its objective expanding the current state of the art for radiation-hardened electronics. The committee repeatedly had difficulty identifying the application of systems engineering principles to the requirements allocation process across the ETDP. Many projects appear to lack clear ties to an integrated systems plan. For example, during individual project reviews, the committee noted the following: Lack of requirements—working to assumed performance targets (e.g., the RHESE project); Lack of connection between project and requirements (e.g., the Structures, Materials, and Mechanisms and the Autonomy for Operations projects); Lack of requirement specificity (e.g., the International Space Station Research and the In Situ Resource Utilization projects); and “Wrong” requirements—requirements do not drive to TRL 6 demonstration or are not derived from system considerations (e.g., the Lunar Dust Mitigation project) It is clear from ETDP project plans that each individual project has requirements that it is trying to meet. It is not clear, however, how these requirements are integrated or that there is cognizance within the individual projects of the requirements of other projects. It is also not clear how the individual projects would influence the development of or changes in requirements, or even the validation or retirement of its set of requirements. Finding 2 on Management: Recognizing the well-established annual process of reviewing and revising the requirements levied on the ETDP by the Constellation Program, the committee nevertheless found a lack of clarity and completeness in the requirements as perceived by ETDP project personnel and a lack of integration of technology requirements (as would be expressed, for example, in a technology roadmap). Beyond responding to requirements and effectively developing technology, the crucial remaining link is the effective transfer of technology to the customer. Technology transfer is defined as a “managed process of conveying a technology from one party to its adoption by another party.”9 The committee reviewed the higher-level ETDP documents and the 22 project plans discussing this aspect of the process, and it found that the ETDP has developed a sound administrative approach to technology transfer—that is, the process by which the technology developer (from the ETDP) meets on a regular basis and participates in program reviews with the customer (from the Constellation Program). Through this interaction, the developer and customer arrive at decisions as to whether the technology is ready in time and will be effective in meeting program needs. The ETDP calls this process technology transition, and this is the process described in the project plans. 9 W.E. Souder, A.S. Nashar, and V. Padmanabhan, “A Guide to the Best Technology-Transfer Practices,” The Journal of Technology Transfer 15(1-2):5-16, 1990.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program However, the experience of the committee, supported by a substantial literature on effective technology transfer, is that this administrative step is usually not the stumbling block. The more difficult aspect of the “managed process of conveying a technology” is the actual human-centered transfer of the tacit and implicit knowledge, the know-how, the analysis tools, and the development and quality processes that represent the effective exchange of knowledge between the developing organization and the deploying organization. How will the people who developed the new technology effectively transfer it to the people who now need it? This is effectively a human, not an administrative, process. The literature in this field extensively examines the exchange of knowledge from universities to industry, giving less coverage to the transfer of technology from industrial research laboratories to industrial product divisions. The topic of transfer from a technology development group within government to a technology user within government is examined less often, but there is now reason to think that the general lessons learned in the other areas would benefit the ESMD in its development of more robust human-centered knowledge-exchange plans. A number of best practices are used by federal agencies, federally funded research and development centers, and universities to help facilitate the process (see Box 4.1). BOX 4.1 Some Frequently Cited Best Practices for Technology Transfer Close interaction of individuals in sending and receiving organizations. Effective technology transfer has been called a “contact sport.” The sending and receiving organizations should both cultivate a strong sense of partnership and develop a culture of ongoing, close, and open communication and trust. These interactions should also help bridge potential culture gaps between the two organizations. Successful technology transfer efforts often have “champions,” or facilitating agents, on both the sending and the receiving ends to act as catalysts to the process and to provide leadership in their respective organizations. The sending organization must have a good understanding of the needs of the receiving organization; this can be achieved through close personal interactions and communication. The Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) could encourage close interactions between individuals on the developing and receiving teams, for both government and contractor personnel. Personal incentives for employees to engage in technology transfer. Technology transfer works best when employees are offered personal incentives to contribute to technology transfer activities. In the commercial world, incentives often take the form of financial reward, such as royalties or equity in companies adopting the new technology. However, incentives can also take other forms, such as the freedom to work on technology transfer projects to further personal satisfaction, or the opportunity to achieve professional recognition by winning awards, publishing journal articles, or presenting results at industry workshops. The ETDP could consider specifically incentivizing good performance in technology transfer. Adequate resources dedicated to the technology transfer process. The ETDP could ensure that there is dedicated funding within the project for technology transfer. Mobility of technical personnel among institutions. One of the most important means of technology transfer can be the movement of scientists and engineers between the two organizations, whether for temporary exchange or permanent transfer. The movement of researchers allows for the direct transfer of highly specialized knowledge and skills. The ETDP could achieve this objective by encouraging mobility of personnel on the NASA side and by ensuring that the development partner has close contact with the receiving partner. Development of technology roadmaps to help direct the development of technology through the research, development, transfer, and commercialization process. Part of the technology development roadmap for each ETDP project element should be an explicit plan for technology transfer, not only of the administrative type, but also to ensure an effective exchange of tacit and implicit knowledge, know-how, tools, and approaches, as well as ownership and advocacy.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program Finding 3 on Management: While the ETDP has a good administrative process for determining the formal mechanics of technology transfer, it could improve the effectiveness of the human side of the process by reviewing and adopting effective practice in this area, with the objective of developing a methodology of technology transfer from the development project to the flight project that ensures the successful infusion of the technology. Based on its three findings on the nature of the program management and implementation methodology of the ETDP, the committee offers the following recommendation. Recommendation on Management: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (EMSD) should review its process for the management of technology development to ensure the timely delivery of technologies for seamless integration into its flight programs. In particular, the ESMD should (1) review and incorporate the considerable expertise in the management and transfer of technology in the larger aerospace, government, and industrial communities; (2) strengthen its management approach by, for instance, appointing a program-level system engineer to ensure that requirements are developed, maintained, and validated in a consistent and complete manner across the entire program; and (3) address the following three issues in particular: (a) the need for a careful assessment of the impact of its technologies on human and operational risk, (b) the need for definition and management of technology requirements, and (c) the importance of recognizing the human elements in the eventual effective transfer and infusion of technology. BALANCE BETWEEN NEAR-TERM AND FAR-TERM TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS IN THE ETDP PORTFOLIO The vast majority of the projects carried out within the ETDP are focused on TRL 3 or above. When compared with the historical balance of low- and mid-TRL-level investments, the recent and significant reduction and/or termination of low-TRL research could have major negative impacts (loss of sustainability in both technologies and personnel) on the ability of the United States to participate successfully in future human space exploration programs. In particular, the committee concluded that by not taking advantage of low-TRL projects, the capability of NASA to minimize life-cycle costs and develop the technology needed for achieving the larger objectives of the VSE is being compromised. Investment in innovative TRL 1-2 research creates new knowledge in response to new questions and requirements, stimulates innovation, and allows more creative solutions to problems constrained by schedule and budget. Moreover, it is investment in that level of research that has historically benefited the nation on a broader basis, generating new industries and spin-off applications. The ETDP projects reviewed by the committee tend to focus on supporting near-term aspects of the VSE and largely exclude Mars. Some are linked exclusively to Orion and Ares 1, and others to the Altair Lunar Lander and lunar surface operations. The committee did not commonly find evidence that the projects consider the extensibility of technologies to Mars. In addition, little emphasis appears to have been placed on the exploration of cost-enabling technologies, which could provide significant cost reductions in some areas and thus allow consideration of alternative technologies in other areas. The ETDP is opting largely for incremental approaches to supporting VSE goals. In most cases, incremental changes to proven technologies or to concepts at TRL 3 or above are projected to enable a return to the Moon. However, only a few such technologies or concepts are also expected to be applicable to the VSE objectives beyond the Moon. For the projects expected to enable Mars exploration with technologies that are TRL 3 or above, the question of investing in innovative concepts at lower TRLs is more philosophical than urgent at this point. However, this is not to say that there should not be a conscious effort across the board now to invest more on ideas at TRL 2 or lower that might become the game changers and enablers for human exploration of Mars and beyond. Therefore, the current balance of incremental and innovative research can be understood in the context of a compromise between achieving the initial goals of the VSE (continuing to support the ISS and a return to the Moon) with tight budgets and schedules—but serious consideration should be given by the ETDP and its
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program Constellation customers to starting now to seed more revolutionary concepts, which will be needed to meet the next objectives of the VSE. Finding 1 on Balance: The ETDP is currently focused on technologies at or above TRL 3, a focus driven by the need to bring together all of the available resources of NASA to reduce nearer-term Constellation mission risk and at the same time reduce potential Constellation Program schedule slippages within the assigned budget profile. Finding 2 on Balance: Most ETDP projects represent incremental gains in capability, which is not inconsistent with the focus on projects at TRL 3 and above. NASA has largely ended investments in longer-term space technologies that will enable later phases of the VSE, allow technology to “support decisions about…destinations,” in the words of the VSE, and in general preserve the technology leadership of the United States. In assessing the balance between near-term and far-term technology investments, the committee found that the current balance of the ETDP is too heavily weighted toward near-term investments. Recommendation on Balance: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate should identify longer-term technology needs for the wider Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) that cannot be met by the existing projects in the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) portfolio, which are currently at technology readiness level (TRL) 3 or above. To meet longer-term technology needs, the committee recommends that the ETDP seed lower-TRL concepts that target sustainability and extensibility to long-term lunar and Mars missions, thus opening the TRL pipeline, re-engaging the academic community, and beginning to incorporate the innovation in technology development that will be necessary to complete the VSE. INVOLVEMENT OF THE BROADER COMMUNITY A number of the ETDP projects are carried out primarily within NASA. For these projects, input from industrial and academic organizations that are already known to be proficient in relevant or germane research, technologies, or tasks is sometimes lacking. Examples of relevant areas include optical communication and processing, composite structures and superalloys, portable power sources, high-performance and radiation-hardened electronics, intelligent software design, exploration life support, and human-robotic systems/analogs. All of these are areas being vigorously pursued by others and areas in which the ETDP could benefit from external collaboration. Engaging in such collaboration would be consistent with the ESMD requirement that programs “engage national, international, commercial, scientific, and public participation in exploration to further United States scientific, security, and economic interests.”10 Finding 1 on Community: Some ETDP projects have made alliances with others in the broader community that will add to the effectiveness or efficiency of the project. However, the committee observes that in general, the ETDP has not taken advantage of many external resources that could potentially reduce cost or schedule pressure, aid in the development of NASA’s proposed technology, and/or provide alternative and backup technologies. Because of the reliance on internal ETDP personnel to carry out ETDP projects, leadership expertise in some areas is still developing (e.g., see the section on Project 08, RHESE, in Chapter 2), and external peer review of these projects is often lacking. One method of increasing collaboration and information exchange with external sources and at the same time contributing to the further development of project leadership is to incorporate an external peer review process. Finding 2 on Community: In many cases, ETDP projects do not take advantage of external technical peer review. 10 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Implementation Plan, p. 5. Available at www1.nasa.gov/pdf/187112main_eip_web.pdf.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program Finding 3 on Community: While many ETDP projects are technically or programmatically led by distinguished NASA personnel, certain other projects would benefit significantly from having a nationally recognized technical expert on the leadership team. NASA has a long history of a very close relationship with the academic community, which it has engaged to help produce new technologies and to provide a pipeline of talented human resources: undergraduates, faculty, and masters- and Ph.D.-level students. Universities have often been the space program’s incubator for both technical and human resources. However, many of the development projects reviewed by the committee had eliminated most of their collaborations with university faculty and students. At the period of the review in late 2007, the ETDP was emerging from the reorganization that had taken place in 2005: two former technology and research programs—Exploration Systems Research and Technology Program and the Human Systems Research and Technology Program—were the predecessors of the ETDP and the Human Research Program. During this transition the total budget was reduced and approximately 320 University Research Grants were terminated midstream, impacting hundreds of graduate students and their supporting faculty. Many of the researchers interviewed by the committee indicated that this had had an adverse impact on their research programs. The level of university research has not recovered since that time.11 Since it was also apparent that NASA was funding very little of the low-TRL research in-house, it was not clear to the committee how new or currently nonexistent required technology would become available for the current and future programs in the next 10 to 30 years, or where the expertise required by both NASA and the contractor community will be generated from. The significant reduction and/or termination of low-TRL research and the concomitant lack of personnel either to conduct the research or to apply it will have significant negative impacts on the ability of the United States to participate in future human exploration programs. Finding 4 on Community: In the transition to the ETDP’s current structure, NASA has terminated support for hundreds of graduate students. The development of human resources for future space development may be significantly curtailed by reductions in NASA support for university faculty, researchers, and students. Recommendation 1 on Community: The Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) should institute external advisory teams for each project that (1) undertake a serious examination of potential external collaborations and identify those that could enhance project efficiency, (2) conduct peer review of existing internal activities, and (3) participate in a number of significant design reviews for the project. Recommendation 2 on Community: The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate should implement cooperative research programs that support the Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) mission with qualified university, industry, or national laboratory researchers, particularly in low-technology-readiness-level projects. These programs should both support the ETDP mission and develop a pipeline of qualified and inspired future NASA personnel to ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. leadership in space exploration. TESTING The need for adequate testing is a recurrent theme in program failure reports: for example, a proximate cause of the Mars Polar Lander, Deep Space 2, Mars Expedition Rover, Titan IVB, and Sea Launch failures was inadequate testing.12 The Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that “organizational practices detrimental to safety were allowed to develop, including reliance on past success as a substitute for sound 11 Christopher Moore, Program Executive, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, NASA, presentation to the committee, October 10, 2007. 12 J. Ganssle, “Crash and Burn,” available at http://www.ganssle.com/articles/crashburn.htm; J. Ganssle, “Disaster!” available at http://www.ganssle.com/articles/Firmwaredisasters1.htm; J. Ganssle, “Disaster Redux!” available at http://www.ganssle.com/articles/Firmwaredisasters2.htm.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program engineering practices (such as testing to understand why systems were not performing in accordance with requirements).”13 Testing is needed to specifically address the risks inherent with any new technology. The lack of sufficient testing in the current ETDP poses the threat that technologies will not ultimately be available to be integrated into the Constellation Program, which increases overall programmatic risk. The lack of systems testing affects how requirements from the broader system can be integrated into the technology at an early enough time to impact the technology’s development. The lack of systems testing also limits the rate at which the technology will mature, which affects how their importance is viewed. Early identification of issues from testing greatly reduces programmatic costs. The committee identified a lack of sufficient testing (ground or flight) in 12 ETDP projects (Ablative Thermal Protection System for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Lunar Dust Mitigation, Cryogenic Fluid Management, High-Performance and Radiation-Hardened Electronics, Intelligent Software Design, Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology, Automated Rendezvous and Docking Sensor Technology, Extravehicular Activity Technologies, International Space Station Research, In Situ Resource Utilization, Fission Surface Power, and Human-Robotic Systems/Analogs). In several projects the missing tests will prevent the achievement of TRL 6 in key technologies and will risk their incorporation into the Constellation Program architecture. The reason for omitting these tests is usually a lack of time (scheduling) and/or a lack of funding to develop the needed test facilities or to carry out necessary flight tests. The present ETDP lacks the systematic progression of testing, especially in a flight-like environment, needed for the following purposes: (1) to decide which of the alternative technologies should be brought forward and how they will have to be modified to be successful in their final form, (2) to ensure that the different technologies mature and are ready when they are needed, and (3) to validate that technologies will function as expected when integrated into the larger system and operating in the space and lunar environments. Within the ETDP there appears to be no consideration of using missions in the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program to demonstrate technologies that are candidates for the crewed missions. This is an example of the need for a tighter coupling to occur between the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program and the ETDP, both in the ESMD Advanced Capabilities area. At the time of this review the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program had been limited to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). However, with the Science Mission Directorate’s recent selection of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory for the Discovery program (whose gravity mapping science is also important to lunar navigation engineering) and the identification of some other small lunar missions (an orbiter and a lander), there is evidence that NASA may look beyond LRO and LCROSS in terms or robotic precursor missions. The question of whether these missions could also serve a technology demonstration role is worth investigating. Apollo had numerous precursor missions before men headed to the Moon. While that may not be necessary for this return to the Moon, some technology demonstration by robotic precursors is likely prudent. Three of the ETDP projects (Lunar Dust Mitigation, In Situ Resource Utilization, and Human-Robotic Systems/Analogs) require but do not at present include tests in a realistic lunar environment including the effects of dust, vacuum, and lunar thermal cycles. The Lunar Dust Mitigation project requires tests at full scale. The construction of a new facility or a significant upgrading of an existing facility would enable needed tests for all three projects. Such tests could also be performed during early lunar missions in preparation for the later, longer-duration missions. The most important flight test is that required for the Orion reentry heat shield. Even though 40 years have elapsed since the Apollo 4 flight test and the state of the art in heat shield design has advanced significantly, it is still not possible to simulate a lunar-return Earth entry in ground-based facilities. Within the present state of the art, it is not possible to build ground-test facilities that will duplicate (or even adequately approximate) reentry flight conditions. Only a reentry flight test at lunar-return velocity and at a scale sufficient to assess the effects of joints and gaps between the heat shield panels will qualify the heat shield for use on a crewed lunar-return mission. 13 Columbia Accident Investigation Board and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2003, available at http://caib.nasa.gov/.
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A Constrained Space Exploration Technology Program: A Review of NASA’s Exploration Technology Development Program 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. CONCLUDING SUMMARY 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.