JPatrick Chan, second from left, explains components of the Dryden-developed fiber optic strain-sensing technology to Bobby Braun, second from right. Also pictured are Tom Horn, left, and Robbie Schingler. (NASA Photo / Carla Thomas)
› View Larger Image NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden created the Office of the Chief Technologist in 2010 and named Bobby Braun to head it.
Since then, that office has been tasked with focusing NASA's technology efforts across the agency, eliminating duplication and creating a new structure in which to advance the agency's technology-development goals. Three divisions, each representing a higher technology-readiness level, and their key elements, are listed.
Early Stage Innovation
The Early-Stage Innovation Division sponsors a range of efforts aimed at advanced concepts and emerging technologies across academia and industry, at NASA field centers and at other research institutions. The Early-Stage Innovation programs include:
- NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts – focused on visionary aeronautics and space system concepts
- Space Technology Research Grants – focused on innovative research in advanced space technology and fellowships for graduate student research in space technology
- Small Business Innovative Research, also known as SBIR, and Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, programs – intended to engage small businesses in aerospace research and development for infusion into NASA missions and the nation's economy
Centennial Challenges – provides prize incentives to stimulate innovative solutions by citizen inventors
and independent teams outside the traditional aerospace community
Center Innovation Fund – stimulates creativity and innovation at NASA field centers
The Early Stage Innovation programs are an incubator for a multitude of high-risk, high-payoff ideas that, if successful, will result in further development as part of higher-level technology-development programs or adoption into other government or commercial efforts. Participation in all of these programs is based on competitive selection.
The Game-Changing Technology Division focuses on maturing advanced space technologies that may lead to new approaches for NASA's future space missions and solutions to significant national challenges.
The two programs in this division, the Game-Changing Development Program and the Small Satellite Subsystems Technologies Program, determine the feasibility of novel ideas and approaches that have the potential to revolutionize future space missions.
Through significant ground-based testing and/or laboratory experimentation, the Game-Changing Technology Division matures technologies in preparation for potential system-level flight demonstration. Those demonstrations could be within the Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations Division, other NASA mission directorates or other government agencies.
The focus on game-changing technologies is that over time, despite expected challenges pushing the limits of new ideas, the overall investments are expected to result in dramatic advances in space technology. Those advancements will enable new NASA missions and potential solutions for a wide variety of society's technological challenges and will be measured. In this division, more than 70 percent of funds are competitively awarded.
One of the greatest challenges NASA faces in incorporating advanced technologies into future missions is bridging the mid-technology readiness level gap between early conceptual studies and infusion of new technologies into the planning of a science or exploration mission. Maturing a space technology to flight readiness status through relevant environment testing present a significant challenge in management of cost and risk. The Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations Division matures a small number of technologies that are beneficial to multiple customers. Technology considered too risky or too costly for a mission can be proven mission-ready.
The Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations Division consists of three programs that will demonstrate technologies in a relevant environment:
- Technology Demonstration Missions Program
- Edison Small Satellite Demonstration Missions Program
- Flight Opportunities Program