Space Technology

US Map of NASA Laboratory System, Space Technology Enterprise Assignments

As described in the NASA Strategic Plan, technological advances and their applications have been the engine behind U.S. productivity growth since World War II. This growth depends not only on the commercial use of existing technologies, but also on a supply of new technologies made readily available to industry and to the U.S. Government. Through advanced technology development and transfer, the Space Technology Enterprise can contribute significantly to the international competitiveness of U.S. industries. These contributions stimulate the economy by developing high-technology products and processes and by providing high-skill, high-wage American jobs.

The stated goals of the Space Technology Enterprise are to:

* Reduce the cost of access to space.

* Provide innovative technologies to enable ambitious future space missions.

* Build capability in the U.S. space industry through focused space and technology efforts.

* Share the harvest of space endeavors with the U.S. industrial community.

The principal thrust of the Space Technology Enterprise is applied research in technologies needed for space systems. This thrust contains four distinct elements: generic technology development with broad applicability, focused technology development with specific requirements, technology demonstration activities required for technology utilization, and technology utilization or transfer.

The FY94 budget for the Space Technology Enterprise was $0.9 billion, of which approximately $0.6 billion was for R&D; activities. The map shows the principal roles played by the NASA Centers and JPL in this Enterprise.

Contributions to National Needs

The Space Technology Enterprise responds to a portion of the mission statement provided to NASA in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958: ". . . (an objective is) the preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautics and space science and technology. . . .: That statement is as relevant to the national needs of today as it was in 1958. In pursuing this mission, the Enterprise plays an important part in developing a technology inventory for meeting the national needs in fundamental science, national security, economic competitiveness, environmental assessment, and space exploration, as specified in NSTC-1.

NASA has the special capabilities-technical human resources, unique "world-class" facility resources, proven research and development processes, and an established record of success-to contribute to the national needs via the Space Technology Enterprise. Since the Space Technology Enterprise provides the technology that supports other NASA Enterprises, other Government agencies, and the private sector to effectively achieve their goals and objectives, the Enterprise is often seen as an enabling function in terms of meeting the national needs. On the other hand, there are standalone elements within the Enterprise that make direct contributions to the national needs, such as space access systems and the Technology Utilization and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programs. In areas cited earlier, such as global communications and navigation satellite technology, leadership resides outside of NASA. Aggressive efforts are needed to determine where external technologies are available.


NASA has used a "Centers of Excellence" concept for selecting and orienting NASA Centers and JPL in meeting Agency technology development objectives and national needs. NASA Headquarters established the technology disciplinary lead roles and supporting roles in an Administrator's Decision Memorandum on NASA Roles and Missions, dated December 30, 1991. The acceptance and implementation of this decision within the Space Technology Enterprise have worked well in reducing intercenter redundancies and overlaps but have not eliminated them.

The Task Force review of the Space Technology Enterprise revealed some redundancies in specific capabilities at the NASA installations visited (such as microelectronics laboratories at both JPL and GSFC). The review has led to the conclusion that the redundancies exist based on specific requirements that were related to the operating autonomy of the other Enterprises (for example, Scientific Research versus MTPE, and so forth). Furthermore, none of these redundancies are justifiable solely on the basis of Space Technology Enterprise requirements. The justifications provided were, in most cases, found to be inadequate in a period of significant downsizing and Agency restructuring. The use of new telecommunications multimedia networks such as NASA is doing with the ATDnet should be explored to reduce the autonomy that has developed across NASA.

Recommendation: NASA should review the capabilities supported by the Space Technology Enterprise and/or in combination with other Enterprises with a view toward eliminating capabilities that are redundant.

Recommendation: In the areas where the NASA technology contributions have not been preeminent in terms of output, and other sources of technology development in the same area exist, NASA should consider reducing or eliminating its capabilities and/or activities.

Recommendation: NASA should seek more opportunities to exploit externally developed technology. Given the many common and complementary research and technology needs of the NRO, NASA, and DoD, NASA leadership should initiate working-level science and engineering working groups, which include NRO, Phillips Lab, and NRL staff, to eliminate redundancy, duplication, and overlap in space technology programs, and leverage each other's work in a complementary fashion to enhance each agency's unique operational needs.

In the globally important area of access to space, there are NASA civil servants working at LeRC on intermediate and large expendable launch systems. There are NASA civil servants and support contractors at GSFC working on small and medium expendable launch systems. There are also NASA civil servants and NASA support contractor personnel at KSC working on expendable launch vehicles. The Expendable Launch Vehicle effort is mostly associated with requirements definitions, operations, and NASA mission support activities. NASA Civil Service personnel at LaRC, MSFC, and KSC are also engaged in technology development and other activities associated with Reusable Launch Vehicles.

On August 5, 1994, the White House announced a new National Space Transportation Policy. The provisions of this policy offer NASA an opportunity to reexamine its operating structure, institutional assignments, etc., as they pertain to space access endeavors.

Recommendation: In view of the recent national policy, NASA should review its program relating to Expendable Launch Vehicles, within the context of its continuing Reusable Launch Vehicle responsibilities, to consolidate activities, significantly reduce currently assigned personnel, and effect appropriate synergism between the two activities within NASA and with DoD.

Strengthen Implementation

Until the early 1990's, the priority of the NASA technology development effort was focused principally on meeting NASA's needs. As a result, the most significant technology developed within this Enterprise by NASA has been in support of specific needs anticipated for emerging NASA programs, such as the Space Shuttle thermal protection system. Technology activities that supported external customers were a part of the Space Applications, Technology Utilization, and SBIR programs.

The Task Force encountered a broad spectrum of opinion relating to the prior effectiveness on NASA's space technology R&D; efforts. A majority view was that the NASA technology development effort had made significant contributions to the success of NASA programs but these contributions were overshadowed by an overall low return-on-investment performance of the effort. NASA needs to rebuild its space technology program to support the Agency's new initiatives and to include externally developed technologies. The Space Technology Enterprise is establishing plans to develop technology that supports three generic groups of customers: (1) other space Enterprises, (2) other Government agencies, and (3) the private sector. NASA has incorporated this multicustomer orientation into its Space Technology Enterprise planning but the implementation plans were still in the development process and were not reviewed by the Task Force.

Recommendation: Space Technology strategic planning should be structured to achieve premier technology in three areas, in priority order. First, NASA should focus on developing technology for meeting critical needs of other Strategic Enterprises. Second, attention should be directed toward the infusion of externally developed technologies, such as unclassified NRO, DoD, and DOE developed technologies, into NASA programs. Third, NASA should pursue the transfer of technology to potential users outside of the Enterprise. Use of "Mosaic-like" technologies on the Internet provides a low-cost means to improve this transfer.

Recommendation: NASA should continue its effort to develop an Agency-level Space Technology Strategic Plan. This plan should define key technology areas and prioritize both short-term and long-term research and technology programs that address the requirements of all of its customers. The plan should require that NASA Centers develop definitive roadmaps and expected timetables for each key technology area. The roadmaps should incorporate technology demonstration requirements, where necessary, to bridge the "gap" between technology development and technology utilization. A separate section of the plan should be developed to address the accomplishment of the access to space objectives of the Agency. These should be made available to all of NASA under "Mosaic-like" networks.

NASA is basically an R&D; organization, and as a result, technology development is a pervasive, distributed function, which seems to be inherent in each Enterprise, program, and activity. Therefore, technology development activities are embedded in the budgets of each NASA program organization, and an Agency-wide process of assessment and, if necessary, coordination of these efforts does not exist. As a result, Space Technology activities are funded within each of the other Enterprises and within the NASA Office of Space Access and Technology. The Space Technology Budget Line Item for the Agency only contains the funding for the Office of Space Access and Technology. Consequently, it is difficult to determine the exact funding level for the Agency-wide technology R&D; effort.

NASA has developed an Integrated Technology Plan, but the Task Force could not find evidence that the plan had either been implemented or updated to incorporate the paradigm shifts that have recently taken place within the Agency. Although the Office of Space Science Integrated Technology Strategy provides an excellent model for the coordination of technology R&D; activities between the Office of Space Science and the Office of Space Access and Technology, no other coordination agreements were found. As a result, there is no information center or focal point for all of NASA's technology development efforts.

There are several ways that the structural problems of the Enterprise can be approached. Possible options are:

1. Continue the current approach-a Space Technology Enterprise run by a central office with only informal connections to technology development in other Enterprises.

2. Augment the current approach with increased centralized control.

3. Allow each of the other Enterprises to develop technology to meet its own needs without a separate space technology organization or Enterprise.

4. Divide technology development among the other Enterprises but strengthen central planning.

Option one allows the perpetuation of existing inefficiencies by failing to coordinate technology development throughout the Agency. The major concern relating to options three and four is the demonstrated tendency to sacrifice the technology development effort when higher priority program funding needs arise. Consequently, we are convinced that option two with structural and process improvements is the preferred method for ensuring the accomplishment of the stated Agency objectives.

Recommendation: Space Technology R&D; functions are dispersed among 8 of the 10 NASA Centers and JPL. NASA should examine the possible gains that might be derived from focusing lead responsibility for technology R&D; activity at a few space development Centers. NASA should assign to a single Headquarters office responsibility for the development of the Agency-level Space Technology Strategic Plan, which incorporates the planned technology activities of the other Enterprises. This office should monitor and report implementation of the plan to ensure that duplication is avoided, to assure leadership in the technology areas, and to ensure that the program continues to support the national needs.

The process used by NASA installations in performing work for entities external to NASA is normally based on authority in the Space Act. Using this authority, NASA Centers have entered into hundreds of interagency agreements with other Government agencies, cooperative agreements with the private sector, and grants to universities for collaborative and cooperative work efforts. The Task Force found no barriers to interlaboratory, interagency, and NASA/university/industry cooperation in technology R&D.; The process is capable of functioning as intended and contains clear and simple decision criteria.

The most significant problem faced by the Space Technology Enterprise today is bridging the "gap" between technology development and technology utilization. This problem relates to both internally and externally developed new technology. The review revealed a strong tendency within NASA to incorporate only "flight-proven technology" into spaceflight missions. The Space Technology Enterprise has started to address this problem by developing missions to flight-qualify advanced technologies. The Lewis and Clark missions represent the beginning of this new effort.

Recommendation: Smaller missions and technology demonstration missions, such as Lewis and Clark, appear to offer a unique opportunity to mitigate the current impacts of the problem of infusion of new technology into flight missions. NASA should continue to pursue these missions and exploit their potential for bridging the gap between technology development and technology utilization.

A preponderance of the work performed by NASA in the Space Technology Enterprise is performed in-house. A clear, consistent, and defendable rationale for performing work in-house versus out-of-house on technology R&D; activities at NASA Centers and JPL was not evident. In addition to meeting specific technical objectives, NASA installations appear to use space technology R&D; activities to exercise and/or sustain specific organizational technical capabilities. However, this inward focus seems to have denied the Enterprise the opportunities that result from including the broad-based research capabilities of other organizations and the university and private-sector communities in the endeavor. Again, this is not acceptable in a period of scarce resources.

Recommendation: The Space Technology Enterprise should use uniform, Agency-wide processes for the implementation of space technology R&D; activities.

Recommendation: The Space Technology Enterprise strategic plan should establish a clear, consistent rationale for in-house versus out-of-house decisions relating to performing technology R&D; activities at the NASA Centers and JPL. This rationale should be reinforced with specific targets for increasing university and private-sector participation in the technology R&D; activity.

Peer and Nonadvocacy Review Processes

Within the NASA Centers, extensive interaction with the user community (which includes other NASA programs and projects, other Government agencies, commercial entities, and academia) is expected to provide the primary focus for setting the technology program agenda. This focus, when combined with the planning and selection process, results in a detailed program research area definition. The research area implementation is accomplished through the Research and Technology Operating Plan process. The process also serves as a mechanism for avoiding duplication of work. The Agency review process (including peer review) is used to determine the quality and effectiveness of development activities conducted within the program.

As stated previously, Space Technology Enterprise R&D; activities take place within each of the other Enterprises. Therefore, the processes used in the implementation of these activities are those used within the performing Enterprise. For example, the Scientific Research and MTPE Enterprises and the Life Sciences and Microgravity Sciences elements of the HEDS Enterprise use peer review as a part of both the selection process and the independent program review process. The Space Technology and Aeronautics Enterprises and the remaining elements of HEDS predominately utilize the peer process only after selection and implementation to review the performance and quality of work. The degree to which the NASA Centers and JPL have implemented the peer review process to review the quality and performance of work within the Space Technology Enterprise is a significant variable. The frequency of the reviews and the composition of the review teams differ significantly among installations. A consistent approach to peer review for quality and performance has not been enforced. Other elements of the Space Technology Enterprise review process include NASA Headquarters initiated Technology Working Group Reviews, periodic Industry Technology Reviews, and internal installation reviews.

Recommendation: For advanced technology development efforts, the Space Technology program should be formulated by NASA based on projected program needs without the use of the peer selection process as used in the science-oriented Enterprises. The peer review process should continue to be used within the Space Technology Enterprise as a measure of quality and performance. Agency-level requirements (frequency, external composition, etc.) for peer reviews within this Enterprise should be incorporated into the Agency-level strategic plans. It is further recommended that the Research and Technology Operating Plan process (or a similar process) continue to be used in making programmatic selection and implementation decisions. For research and technology base activities (that is, basic research), the peer selection process is a viable option when such activities are initiated within the Enterprise.

NASA as a National Resource

The Task Force strongly believes that NASA must and can be perpetuated as an important national resource. Implementing the general recommendations and the more specific recommendations applicable to the individual Strategic Enterprises will lead to prudent investment of public resources by NASA with a high benefit-to-cost ratio; it will sustain and promote excellence in space and aeronautics; it will help America compete in the unfolding global marketplace; it will enable NASA to support the national agenda effectively and contribute to the quality of life by increasing the understanding of planet Earth; and it will enable NASA to allocate more funds for long-term studies sparked by bold and novel ideas so that it can continue the tradition of leadership in R&D; efforts.

NASA has initiated a strategic posture that can be energized by the Task Force recommendations to rekindle the excitement and pioneering spirit, and attract a new generation to pursue careers in science and technology.

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