Documents/NASA2011/3: Space Technologies

Strategic Goal 3: Space Technologies

Create the innovative new space technologies for our exploration, science, and economic future.

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Our Nation's economic competitiveness is due in large part to decades of investment in technology and innovation. Since NASA's inception, we have used innovative technology development programs to generate new science, exploration, and aeronautics capabilities. Our innovations have enabled our missions, contributed to other government agencies' needs, cultivated commercial aerospace enterprises, and fostered a technology-based U.S. economy. NASA will continue technology development programs that advance our missions' capabilities and effectiveness, and we will enable future scientific discovery and improved capabilities of other government agencies and the aerospace industry. Aggressive technology investments for our exploration and discovery missions will create a vibrant commercial space sector through the establishment of new markets in future technologies. We will transfer Agencydeveloped technologies, processes, discoveries, and knowledge to the commercial sector through various means including licenses, partnerships, and cooperative activities. These transferred technologies will be used to create products, services, cascading innovations, and other discoveries to fuel the Nation's economic engine and improve our quality of life. Achieving our ambitious science and exploration objectives requires development of capabilities that do not yet exist or are currently too immature and too high-risk to use for current missions. The inclusion of an untried technology poses risks to planned budgets and schedules due to the unknown and unpredictable issues that may arise. To responsibly accelerate technologies for enabling future missions, we will create and sustain a portfolio that spans the technology readiness level (TRL) spectrum and balances mission-focused (pull) and transformational (push) technology investments. We will prioritize this portfolio using the Space Technology Grand Challenges, a set of important space-related problems that must be solved to efficiently and economically achieve our missions, and our Space Technology Roadmap, an integrated set of 14 technology area roadmaps. The National Academies is conducting a decadal-like survey based on our draft roadmap to identify and prioritize critical space technology investment areas. This goal addresses three categories of technology investments that will expand the NASA portfolio across the TRL spectrum. The first set of technology investments focuses on fostering early-stage innovation in which a multitude of concept technologies are developed through a process of innovation, experimentation, idea generation, and investigation. We learn valuable lessons from these early-stage activities even when some of the technologies do not work as intended. Our technology efforts through student grants, fellowships, and other opportunities to inspire innovators will help grow a future workforce and stimulate greater creativity in our Nation. The second category focuses on taking the best low-TRL technologies (those studied under the first category) and determining which of these “disruptive” innovations and technologies are viable through further technology development, prototyping, experimentation, testing, and demonstrations. The goal of these technology activities is to validate whether or not substantial improvements in affordability, capability, or reliability are truly achievable for missions. The third type of technology investment supports technology development targeting near-term unique NASA mission needs. Through focused studies, dialogue, and development activities across NASA, as well as with academia, and industry, these technology activities will provide improved future technologies that are closely aligned with their associated missions. Building a comprehensive portfolio with both near-term and long-term development streams will allow us to discover and advance high-payoff technologies that may fundamentally change the way we live and explore.