The NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was formed for the explicit purpose of being an independent source of advanced aeronautical and space concepts that could dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its mission. The NASA statement of work that funded NIAC (reprinted in Appendix D) outlined a broad set of goals and objectives, which included:
In evaluating NIAC’s effectiveness in meeting its mission, the Committee to Review the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts mapped NIAC’s accomplishments to each of the above goals and objectives. The results address the following questions posed in the committee’s statement of task:
NIAC’S APPROACH TO IMPLEMENTATION
To assess the overall impact of NIAC’s research efforts on future NASA missions, the fundamental approach to producing these results was evaluated by the committee. The committee focused on the method used by NIAC in soliciting projects, making awards, and evaluating and measuring the progress of the funded concepts. Central to this approach was NIAC’s need to establish a
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 11
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts 1 Effectiveness of NIAC Committee to Review the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts Statement of Task, Objective 1—Evaluate NIAC’s effectiveness in meeting its mission, including a review of the grants made by the Institute, their results, and the likelihood that they will contribute to the Institute’s stated goals. The NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC) was formed for the explicit purpose of being an independent source of advanced aeronautical and space concepts that could dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its mission. The NASA statement of work that funded NIAC (reprinted in Appendix D) outlined a broad set of goals and objectives, which included: Implementing a procedure to select and fund innovative, technically competent, revolutionary advanced concepts that could benefit NASA in its mission, Sustaining public interest in revolutionary concepts of alternative aerospace futures, Providing a positive inspiration to the nation’s youth to study technical subjects so that they can conceive of their exciting role in the future and persevere in making their vision a reality, Achieving a balanced distribution of effort and resources between NASA enterprises, Enabling 5 to 10 percent infusion of NIAC-developed advanced concepts into NASA’s long-term plans, and Utilizing an Internet-based management environment to enable broad public scrutiny of NIAC-funded concepts. In evaluating NIAC’s effectiveness in meeting its mission, the Committee to Review the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts mapped NIAC’s accomplishments to each of the above goals and objectives. The results address the following questions posed in the committee’s statement of task: To what extent were the NIAC-sponsored advanced concept studies innovative and technically competent? How effective was NIAC in infusing advanced concepts into NASA’s strategic vision, future mission plans, and technology development programs? How relevant were these studies to the aerospace sector at large? How well did NIAC leverage potential partnerships or cost-sharing arrangements? NIAC’S APPROACH TO IMPLEMENTATION To assess the overall impact of NIAC’s research efforts on future NASA missions, the fundamental approach to producing these results was evaluated by the committee. The committee focused on the method used by NIAC in soliciting projects, making awards, and evaluating and measuring the progress of the funded concepts. Central to this approach was NIAC’s need to establish a
OCR for page 12
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts rapid process for soliciting and reviewing the proposals, along with choosing a cadre of technically qualified reviewers. A key starting point for a discussion of the degree of innovation and technical competence of the NIAC-sponsored studies is to focus on the definition of the term “advanced concept,” as given in NASA’s statement of work for NIAC: The term “advanced concepts” has many meanings. Establishing the meaning and scope of the kind of “advanced concepts” to be solicited by the NIAC is fundamental in meeting the goals of this SOW. The following are a number of tests that the contractor shall apply to a specific concept to determine if it meets the requirements and intent of this SOW. Generally, the NIAC is seeking advanced concepts that could come into fruition in the 10-40 year timeframe. The concepts shall be revolutionary rather than evolutionary. Evolutionary means the next progressive step in development and/or a similar type of research to the research currently being conducted. Revolutionary often includes a new paradigm. It entails a leap ahead in technological advances and is generally a totally new way of doing something. The advanced concept may have been explored before, but in order for another exploration of the advanced concept to be revolutionary, it must be a new approach. This difference is illustrated in the following example: An improved rocket that would enhance human’s ability to explore space would be evolutionary. A totally different and new type of transportation into space would be revolutionary and might include a space tether, a space elevator, or a mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion system, three concepts previously studied under past NIAC funded studies. The concepts shall be consistent with the National Space Policy and the NASA Strategic Plan (see http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codez/new/policy/pddnstc8.htm and http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codez/plans.html). The concepts shall have a “new” aspect. They shall not repeat or duplicate concepts previously studied or currently being studied by NASA unless they have a new approach as stated in 4.A. above. The concepts shall involve major systems and architectures and potentially have a major impact on how future Enterprise missions are accomplished. Systems include the physical embodiment of the overall plan to accomplish a goal and/or a suite of equipment, software and operations methods capable of accomplishing an operational objective. Architectures include an overall plan to accomplish a goal and/or a suite of physical embodiments of the overall plan and their operational methods of meeting an overall mission or program objective. The concepts shall not solely be a specific advanced technology or new design approach such as a new solar cell or a new spectrometer. The concepts must be put into a mission application context. The concepts shall expand the number of approaches or choices rather than increase the depth of analysis of known concepts. An advanced concept shall include both a technical description (the physics, chemistry and technology) as well as the quantification of potential benefits.1 This definition was used throughout the 9-year life of NIAC, and a total of 1,309 proposals for Phase I funding (which focused on a concept) were received. Thus, the NIAC definition of the term “advanced concepts” was successful in attracting a wide range of proposals. These proposals were submitted online and given a preliminary screening by the NIAC staff and then were passed along to an external review team. The reviewer pool consisted of nearly 200 skilled professionals. The proposals were examined and given a preliminary evaluation using an all-electronic approach to initial evaluation, which was unique at the time. The preliminary evaluation was followed by a meeting of senior reviewers who selected the final proposals for recommendation. NIAC award criteria are presented in Box 1-1. 1 Statement of work for the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, Attachment A of Contract NAS5-03110, Amendment of Solicitation/Modification No. 7, issued by NASA for the Universities Space Research Association, dated July 11, 2003, pp. 2-3; reprinted in Appendix D.
OCR for page 13
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts BOX 1-1 NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Award Criteria Phase I Phase II 6 months $50,000 to $75,000 Technical proposal limit: 12 pages Electronic PDF submission only Up to 24 months Up to $400,000 Technical proposal limit: 25 pages Electronic PDF submission only Is the concept revolutionary rather than evolutionary? Does the proposal continue the development of a revolutionary architecture or system in the context of a future NASA mission? Is the proposed work likely to provide a sound basis for a future mission or program? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts? Is the concept substantiated with a description of applicable scientific and technical disciplines necessary for development? Is the concept for an architecture or system, and have the benefits been qualified in the context of a future NASA mission? Is the concept substantiated with a description of applicable scientific and technical disciplines necessary for development? Has a pathway for development of a technology roadmap been adequately described? Are all of the enabling technologies identified? Are the programmatic benefits and cost versus performance of the proposed concept adequately described and understood? Does the proposal show the relationship between the concept’s complexity and its benefits, cost, and performance? NIAC recommendations were presented to NASA Headquarters for review of any conflicts with ongoing programs. If no conflicts were identified, the recommendations were generally accepted, and awards were made to the proposers to the limit of funding available. NIAC’s process ensured that there was an unbiased, rapid review of the proposals, followed by approval and funding. From receipt of proposals to award, the process usually took 8 to 12 weeks. In general, the evaluation and award of Phase II projects (which focused on a continuation of the development of an architecture or system) took a few weeks longer. In addition, unsuccessful proposers were given a debriefing and encouraged to remedy the shortcomings of their proposal and resubmit at the next opportunity. The awards were announced publicly and placed on the NIAC Web site for all to follow. The reports and annual meetings were all open to the public. Although the proposal themes in general were distributed among all the NASA enterprises, a few of the proposals addressed advances in aeronautics. The committee notes that aeronautics vehicles and the air traffic control system are also in need of innovative advances and are certainly an important part of the NASA mission. Finding 1.1: NIAC’s approach to implementing its functions successfully met NASA-defined objectives, resulted in a cost-effective and timely execution of advanced concept studies, afforded an opportunity for external input of new ideas to the agency, and subsequently provided broad public exposure of NASA programs.
OCR for page 14
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Finding 1.2: The utilization of an Internet-based management environment enabled broad public scrutiny of NIAC-funded concepts and brought a high degree of efficiency to the proposal submission and review process. INNOVATION AND TECHNICAL COMPETENCE OF NIAC-SPONSORED STUDIES For the purpose of this report, the committee defines innovation as the unique connection of disparate ideas into a new concept. An innovator takes the knowledge of today and produces the concepts of tomorrow. An innovator, seeing what others see, develops a novel product by thinking differently about the problem. Of the 1,309 proposals received over the 9-year history of NIAC, 1,066 were evaluated (243 proposals were not evaluated due to the closure of NIAC in 2007). Of these, 126 were funded as Phase I studies. The 126 NIAC Phase I studies were led by a total of 109 distinct principal investigators, each of which led a research team of 3 to 10 personnel, often across multiple organizations. Recipients of NIAC awards were designated “NIAC Fellows.” Only investigators who had a Phase I contract could propose a Phase II effort. Subsequently, 126 Phase II proposals were received and 42 were awarded. As in any advanced concept effort, some Phase I projects did not deliver the potential anticipated, or they encountered insurmountable technical obstacles and were not renewed in Phase II. Due to the short time duration of the Phase I efforts, some of the concepts could not be sufficiently advanced to merit award of a Phase II effort. For an activity with a long-term horizon, this is to be expected. As a result of the NIAC annual meetings, new ideas were created and submitted. This open process also led to new ideas that might not have surfaced without such meetings. Insofar as innovation is concerned, a review of all the NIAC-supported efforts shows that most of these efforts were innovative, and, in some cases, pushed the bounds of knowledge (see Appendix E). Overall, the creativity and expertise of the investigators brought new approaches into NASA’s technology “tool box.” A study of the published results of NIAC-sponsored studies by this committee confirms a high degree of innovation in many of them. Finding 1.3: NIAC was successful in encouraging and supporting a wide community of innovators from diverse disciplines and institutions. Through establishment of its NIAC Fellows program, conferences, and awards, NIAC developed a community of innovators. NIAC was successful in its mission of developing a large community of innovative advanced concepts, as evidenced by receipt of 1,309 proposals in its 9-year lifetime. The 126 NIAC Phase I studies were led by a total of 109 distinct principal investigators, each of which led a research team of 3 to 10 personnel, often across multiple organizations. In regard to NIAC research efforts, technical competence must be viewed through the program guidelines of “revolutionary systems and architectures” and “innovative concepts” as defined by NASA in the NIAC statement of work (see Appendix D). The external review process eliminated those proposals that were poorly formulated or violated the laws of physics. The awarded proposals were competently addressed and final reports were filed. The committee further notes that in all the annual reviews of NIAC carried out by NASA, NIAC was rated “excellent” in all categories, including technical competence and innovation. A detailed commentary on the technical competence of each NIAC research effort is beyond the scope of the committee’s charge; however, summaries of the funded studies can be seen on the NIAC Web site.2 In addition, the technical competence and advances made by three NIAC Phase II investigations are highlighted in Appendix F. 2 See http://www.niac.usra.edu.
OCR for page 15
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts Finding 1.4: The majority of NIAC-supported efforts were highly innovative. Many pushed the limits of applied physics. Overall, the efforts supported produced results commensurate with the risks involved. NIAC’S ROLE IN CREATING PUBLIC VISIBILITY NIAC fostered an open review of its advanced concepts by a combination of open access to reports and briefings on the NIAC Web site, a NIAC Annual Meeting and the NIAC Fellows Meeting. NIAC Fellows were required to present the results of their research at annual meetings open to the public. The purpose of these meetings was to offer an opportunity for the currently funded NIAC Fellows and NIAC Student Fellows to present the results of their concept development efforts and to encourage dialogue among all attendees. In addition, TV and news coverage was solicited, and the resulting articles and visibility brought positive attention to NASA and its advanced concepts. NIAC and NIAC-sponsored advanced concepts received international recognition in the popular and technical press. NIAC Fellows were highly visible in technical society meetings with numerous presentations and published technical papers. In addition to attracting proposals from the established technical community, NIAC started a special program to encourage undergraduate students to use their creativity to stretch well beyond typical undergraduate course work. The NIAC Student Fellows Prize (NSFP) was initiated in 2005 to attract these students and facilitate the development of their advanced aerospace concepts. The NIAC Fellows were encouraged to independently publicize their work, leading to substantial public visibility. The NIAC Web site contains all the reports of the studies and the annual meetings for anyone to access and use as appropriate. Over its 9-year life, the NIAC Web site received 226,000 Google hits. From 2006 to 2007 alone, there were about 86 interviews, articles in popular magazines and the press, TV or radio coverage, and public appearances at noteworthy meetings by many of the awardees. Complete information on all the outreach and public relations activities carried out by NIAC as part of its commitment to the NIAC statement of work may be found in the NIAC annual reports.3 Finding 1.5: NIAC was successful in providing widespread positive publicity for NASA, as evidenced by TV and media coverage and Internet interest. Finding 1.6: Considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that, through establishment of the NIAC student undergraduate Fellows program and media coverage of its activities, NIAC encouraged young people to pursue studies in engineering and science. INFUSING ADVANCED CONCEPTS INTO NASA’S STRATEGIC VISION, FUTURE MISSION PLANS, AND TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS A significant goal for NIAC was a “balanced distribution of effort and resources between NASA enterprises, a record of 5 to 10 percent infusion of NIAC-developed advanced concepts into NASA’s long-term plans.”4 3 Information on NIAC outreach and public relations activities can be found in the NIAC annual reports, published yearly from 1999 to 2006 (NASA, Washington, D.C., available at http://www.niac.usra.edu). See the following sections for each given year: 1999, pp. 7-9; 2000, pp. 15-18; 2001, pp. 8-11; 2002, pp. 7-10; 2003, App. A and B; 2004, App. A and B; 2005, App. C and D; 2006, App. E and F; 2007, App. E and F. 4 Statement of work for the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, Attachment A of Contract NAS5-03110, Amendment of Solicitation/Modification No. 7, issued by NASA for the Universities Space Research Association, dated July 11, 2003, Section 3; reprinted in Appendix D.
OCR for page 16
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts All NIAC awards listed in Appendix E of this report were categorized by the committee according to NASA directorate (aeronautics research, exploration systems, science, and space operations) based on information from the final reports for each project. The categorization is somewhat subjective, given that some projects could possibly fit into other directorates due to the interdisciplinary nature of the activities. While a relatively low percentage of aeronautics projects were awarded, the committee found that the NIAC proposal solicitation was open across all NASA enterprises. Balance in NIAC awards across all NASA enterprises was also assessed in a 2003 National Research Council (NRC) report,5 which observed that NIAC was making efforts to solicit proposals across all NASA enterprises. Finding 1.7: NIAC-funded projects were distributed well across the NASA exploration systems, science, and space operations directorates. Although the NIAC solicitation was open across all NASA enterprises, a low number of aeronautics proposals were submitted. As such, NIAC made a relatively limited number of aeronautics awards. Over the 9 years of its existence, NIAC supported a total of 126 Phase I studies and 42 Phase II efforts for a total of 168 awards. At least two Phase I projects and 12 Phase II projects attracted external funding from both NASA and other sources, as shown in Table 1-1. These 14 projects received approximately $7 million in funding from NIAC and attracted at least $23.8 million in funding from NASA, other agencies, or the private sector. Some projects have become classified and others are receiving trickle funds from aerospace sources; therefore, the total external funding may be higher. About 29 percent (12 out of 42) of the Phase II efforts achieved additional funding. Nine of these Phase II efforts (21 percent of the 42) received additional funding from NASA. When all sources of funding are considered, approximately 8 percent of the Phase I and Phase II efforts received additional funding. These numbers show significant interest from both NASA and the aerospace community, including DARPA and other government agencies. An in-depth explanation of the content of all 42 NIAC research efforts can be found on the NIAC Web site.6 Although a significant percentage of NIAC-sponsored Phase II advanced concepts received additional funding from NASA or other sources following the conclusion of their NIAC-funded efforts, infusion into NASA’s long-term plans is difficult to assess quantitatively because of the changing nature of NASA’s long-term planning process and the long-term development horizon of NIAC-funded activities. Considering the 40-year planning horizon of NIAC-funded activities, coupled with the 9-year existence of NIAC, the committee believes it is likely that the number of Phase II projects considered for NASA missions will continue to increase over time. For this review, the committee identified three NIAC-sponsored activities (approximately 7 percent of Phase II awards) that appear to have had an impact on NASA’s long-term plans. The committee considers this measure of success for the Phase II projects to be the most meaningful and consistent with the NIAC charter, based on the NIAC statement of work (see Appendix D).7 Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion (Robert Winglee and J. Slough, University of Washington). Funded in 1998 as a Phase I effort, the Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion (M2P2) system was proposed as a revolutionary means for spacecraft propulsion that efficiently utilized the energy from space plasmas to accelerate payloads to much higher speeds than can be attained by present chemical-oxidizing propulsion systems. As part of the NIAC Phase II effort funded in 1999, Winglee and his team developed and tested several laboratory-scale models to improve understanding of the proposed magnetic-inflation process and to confirm theoretical models of the effect. Their tests demonstrated that plasma 5 National Research Council, Review of NASA’s Aerospace Technology Enterprise: An Assessment of NASA’s Pioneering Revolutionary Technology Program, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003. 6 See http://www.niac.usra.edu. 7 Additional discussion of these three projects appears in Appendix F.
OCR for page 17
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts TABLE 1-1 Return on NIAC Investment as Measured by Additional Funding Project External Funds Received ($ million) From NASA From Other Sources Phase I Studies Swarm Array Space Telescope 0 0.345 Propagating Magnetic Wave Plasma Accelerator 0 0.100 Phase II Studies The Space Elevator 2.5 6.0 Moon and Mars Orbiting Spinning Tether Transport 2.1 1.3 Global Environmental Micro Sensors 0.05 2.75 The New Worlds Observer 1.5 2.1 Micro-Arcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission 1.0 0 Electromagnetic Formation Flying 0.65 1.0 Global Constellation of Stratospheric Scientific Platforms 0.65 0 Mini-magnetospheric Plasma Propulsion 0.90 0 Lorentz-Actuated Orbits: Electrodynamic Propulsion without a Tether 0 0.550 The BioSuit™ 0.146 0 Scalable Flat-Panel Nano-particle MEMS/NEMS Propulsion 0 0.100 Very Large Optics for the Study of Extrasolar Terrestrial Planets 0 0.075 NOTE: MEMS/NEMS, micro/nano electro mechanical systems. SOURCES: NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, 9th Annual and Final Report, Atlanta, Ga., 2007; references following Table E-1, Appendix E of this report; and NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, Long-term Success of NIAC-Funded Concept, Short Report, Atlanta, Ga., June 8, 2007. confinement by the M2P2 followed classical linear scaling up to the point that wall effects became important and the tests demonstrated plasma inflation. This finding was instrumental in leading to NASA evaluation and testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in an 18 ft x 32 ft vertical vacuum chamber. These experiments were able to quantify the performance of the prototype through comparative studies of the laboratory test results with the simulation results and provided strong evidence that the high thrust levels (1-3 N) reported in the original description should be achievable for low energy input (~500 kW) and low propellant consumption (<1 kg/day). Further testing to measure the thrust levels attainable by the prototype, however, did not confirm measurable thrust. In the 2001 to 2002 time frame, the M2P2 concept was considered a viable, emerging technology by the NASA Decadal Planning Team and the NASA Exploration Team. Through peer review, the M2P2 effort was deemed highly innovative and technically competent. In 2002, a review panel that included plasma experts concluded there were additional unresolved technical issues that centered around magnet field strengths, mass, and power requirements. While partially addressed by the M2P2 team,8 this work came to a stop due to changing priorities within the agency. Micro-Arcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission (Webster Cash, University of Colorado, Boulder). In 1999, a NIAC Phase I grant was awarded to Webster Cash for a proposal entitled “X-Ray Interferometry: Ultimate Astronomical Imaging.” The concept was for an array of grazing-incidence x-ray mirrors on free-flying spacecraft, coordinated to focus the x rays on a set of beam-combining and detector spacecraft. The Phase I work validated the basic concept. Initial tests of a prototype x-ray interferometer were performed with additional NASA support at MSFC and demonstrated a significant improvement over the best previous results. In 2000, Cash’s x-ray interferometry proposal was selected by NIAC for Phase II funding. He and his colleagues published their test results in a September 2000 8 R.M. Winglee, P. Euripides, T. Ziemba, J. Slough, and L. Giersch, Simulation of Mini-Magnetospheric Plasma Production (M2P2) interacting with an external plasma wind, AIAA Paper No. 2003-5224, July 2003.
OCR for page 18
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts issue of Nature.9 Also that year NASA incorporated this concept into its strategic plans. Dubbed MAXIM, the concept appeared in the NRC decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics released in 2000,10 which identified x-ray interferometry for $60 million in funding over the following 10 years. Cash has selected as a long-range goal to image the event horizon of a black hole. While the technical implementation remains extremely challenging, the fact that the laboratory demonstration of this capability was published in Nature testifies to the significance of this accomplishment. NASA has continued support to further define and develop high-resolution x-ray imaging missions, and Cash’s interferometry concept has remained among the leading contenders. The MAXIM Pathfinder mission was the subject of a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Integrated Mission Design Center study in 2002. In 2004 MAXIM received a $1 million 3-year grant from NASA’s Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis Program to further develop the optics for this concept. Today, the technology of x-ray interferometry that was the subject of the initial NIAC study is the first of three competing methods that NASA is pursuing under its Black Hole Imager mission. New Worlds Observer (Webster Cash, University of Colorado, Boulder). In 2004, Webster Cash led a successful proposal for a NIAC Phase I project, the New Worlds Imager, to study a variety of pinhole camera and occulting mask designs to enable imaging of planetary systems around other stars. In May 2005, NIAC selected Cash’s proposal for a Phase II grant. During Phase II, Cash and his collaborators demonstrated suppression performance (reduction of starlight intensity) <10−7 in a laboratory test of a miniature occulter. Both a publication in Nature in July 200611 and the laboratory demonstration testify to the significance and technical competence of the basic concept and the research supported by NIAC. With the completion of the NIAC Phase II study, NASA provided significant additional support for Cash’s occulter concept, and it is now one of the competitive concepts for the Terrestrial Planet Finder program. In addition, both Ball Aerospace Corporation and Northrop Grumman Corporation have made internal investments to further develop the concept in conjunction with Cash and his team. In February 2008, NASA announced that a team led by Cash was awarded $1 million for the New Worlds Observer as one of its Astrophysics Strategic Missions Concept Studies (ASMCS). That study has been completed and the results will be used to prepare the New Worlds Observer mission concept for the NRC’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, Astro2010. Other studies have had unexpected spin-offs into the medical community, including the work on a revolutionary spacesuit, the BioSuitTM, and on hopping microbots. For example, the initial NIAC-funded efforts on the BioSuitTM have spawned research into using this technology to improve the locomotion capability of children with cerebral palsy. A number of athletic efficiency applications are also under study. The materials used in the hopping microbots are being developed for use in surgical procedures that rely on real-time use of magnetic resonance imaging instruments for positioning. Finding 1.8: Throughout its 9-year existence, NASA invested $36.2 million in NIAC advanced concept studies. Fourteen NIAC Phase I and Phase II projects, which were awarded $7 million by NIAC, received an additional $23.8 million in funding from a wide range of organizations, demonstrating the significance of the nation’s investment in NIAC’s advanced concepts. NIAC successfully matured 12 of the 42 Phase II advanced concepts (29 percent), as measured by receipt of post-NIAC funding; 9 of them (21 percent) received post-NIAC funding from NASA itself. In addition, 3 NIAC Phase II efforts (7 percent of the Phase II awards) appear to have impacted NASA’s long-term plans, and 2 of these efforts have either already been incorporated or are 9 W. Cash, A. Shipley, S. Osterman, and M. Joy, Laboratory detection of x-ray fringes with a grazing-incidence interferometer, Nature 407:160-162, 2000, doi:10.1038/35025009Letter. 10 National Research Council, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001. 11 W. Cash, Detection of Earth-like planets around nearby stars using a petal-shaped occulter, Nature 442:51-53, 2006, doi:10.1038/nature04930.
OCR for page 19
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts currently under consideration by the National Research Council Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey as a future NASA missions. One of the weaknesses of the NIAC program was the lack of sufficient funding to mature the selected concepts to the point that a NASA program could take substantial interest. By design, NIAC concepts completing Phase II were certainly not at a technology readiness level that allowed adoption by a NASA flight program. This technology-readiness disconnect between the external innovators and NASA program personnel made infusion of NIAC concepts into future agency missions or strategic plans exceedingly difficult. Finding 1.9: By design, the maturity of NIAC Phase II products was such that a substantial additional infusion of resources was needed before these advanced concepts could be deemed technically viable for implementation as part of a future NASA mission or flight program. This technology readiness immaturity created infusion difficulties for the NIAC program and innovators. RELEVANCE TO THE AEROSPACE SECTOR AT LARGE NIAC-funded efforts attracted funding from a wide range of government and private sources. The provision of additional funding from private industry is a clear indicator of how the work is relevant to long-range industry plans. Of the $23.8 million cited in Table 1-1, the private sector has provided about $9.6 million to further develop selected NIAC efforts. Other government agencies have contributed about $4.7 million and NASA has provided nearly $9.5 million (with approximately $1.3 million of the NASA total coming in the form of Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] and Small Business Technology Transfer Research [STTR] programs). Specifically, these sources included DARPA; the National Reconnaissance Office; the U.S. Air Force; NASA centers, including GSFC and Kennedy Space Center; and aerospace companies such as Northrop Grumman and ENSCO, Inc. In addition, a few NIAC efforts have contributed to the launch of a new business division (e.g., Manobianco) and two entirely new businesses (e.g., Space Elevator: Black Line Ascension and Liftport). Finding 1.10: NIAC produced studies that were of relevance to the aerospace sector at large, including other government agencies and aerospace industries, as evidenced by the fact that 19 percent of the Phase II advanced concepts received additional funding from other government agencies and industry. In addition, three new small business entities were created based on NIAC-spinoff technology. PARTNERSHIPS AND COST SHARING NIAC’s statement of work (see Appendix D) from NASA did not require NIAC investigators to develop partnerships or encourage cost-sharing support; it was understood that each project would be funded entirely by NIAC. However, during interviews with six grantees, the committee noted that all of them stated that their projects were partially supported by their organizations. This unexpected outcome was likely due to the enthusiasm that the grantees had for their projects. Unfortunately, because cost-sharing information was not tabulated in the NIAC records, the committee could not quantify the breadth or depth of the cost-sharing support across the NIAC research portfolio. Finding 1.11: Partnerships and cost sharing were not required in NIAC’s statement of work. However, a number of projects were partially supported by the grantees’ organizations, thus leveraging the impact of the NIAC grant.
OCR for page 20
Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts In summary, NIAC was, of itself, an innovative organizational concept that filled a void in NASA for long-term, innovative concepts. NIAC was successful in attracting a large number of proposals and funded about 10 percent of them for Phase I efforts. Thirty-three percent of the Phase I awards were extended into Phase II. It is likely that, given NASA’s budget pressures and near-term mission focus, none of these concepts would have been supported by NASA’s mission directorates. Thus, NIAC provided a vehicle for creativity that inspired new ideas and concepts, stimulated a group of innovative researchers, developed about 1 percent of all new ideas submitted to the point that they could secure additional funding, and allowed a few of these ideas to affect NASA’s long-term planning process (potentially leading to future NASA or other agency mission impacts). In addition, due to the open nature of NIAC, its Web site, and its annual meetings, substantial publicity was afforded to NASA. Some of these efforts, like the Space Elevator project, have spawned widespread interest and annual competitions that were not heretofore envisioned. Through media coverage and the establishment of the NIAC Student Fellows program for undergraduate students, NIAC motivated young people to pursue engineering and science programs and begin a potential career in aeronautics and space. Perhaps out of these seedling efforts, a new cadre of innovators will arise to continue this advancement in aeronautics and space technology.