Technical Authority is an important part of NASA’s Governance that employs checks and balances among key organizations to ensure that decisions have the benefit of different points of view and are not made in isolation. NASA separates the roles for Programmatic and Technical Authorities to provide an organizational structure that emphasizes the Authorities’ shared goal of mission success while taking advantage of the different perspectives each brings.
The Technical Authority process is a part of NASA’s system of checks and balances to provide independent oversight of programs and projects in support of safety and mission success through the selection of specific individuals with delegated levels of authority. Individuals with these formal delegations are Technical Authorities.
Technical Authority (TA) originates with the Administrator and is formally delegated to the NASA AA and then to the NASA Chief Engineer for ETA; the Chief, Safety and Mission Assurance for SMA TA; the Chief Health and Medical Officer for HMTA; and then to the Center Directors. Subsequent delegations down from the Center Director are made to selected individuals at Center organizational levels.
Fundamental Aspects of Technical Authority
- Provide an independent view of program/project activities.
- Ensure direction to the program or project reflects the view of the Center or, where appropriate, the view of the NASA Technical Authority community
- Approve changes to and waivers to all Technical Authority responsible requirements
- The Program/Project Manager remains responsible for the safe conduct and successful outcome of the program/project in conformance with governing requirements.
For further details regarding the origin of TA, role in NASA governance, common TA roles, and how ETA, SMA TA, and HMTA are implemented, refer to:
- NPD 1000.0C – NASA Governance and Strategic Management Handbook
- NPR 7120.5F — NASA Space Flight Program and Project Management Requirements
- NASA Space Flight Program and Project Management Handbook
Why Have Capability Leadership in NASA?
NASA relies on numerous capabilities to achieve our challenging goals — whether striving to send crews beyond Earth orbit, or to understand the origins of the Universe, or to innovate supersonic aircraft. Those capabilities are defined as a combination of workforce talent, specialized facilities and infrastructure, as well as unique tools and techniques. The recent TCAT assessments on particular capabilities highlighted the need to address capabilities from an Agency-wide perspective. As a result, NASA senior management has agreed to adopt a Capability Leadership Model.
This model was first codified in the Associate Administrator’s April 2014 memo, “Agency Technical Capability Leadership Plan: Institutionalizing TCAT Effort”. This document is intended to provide further details on the Capability Leadership Model. However, it is important to note that the model will evolve as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
The intent of the Capability Leadership Model is to strategically address the following:
- How to build a strong foundation to support NASA missions;
- How to advance capabilities, intrinsic to NASA, to meet long-term needs;
- How to optimize deployment of capabilities across Centers; and
- How to transition capabilities from government, or eliminate entirely.
How Is Capability Leadership Determined?
A capability will be designated to follow the Capability Leadership Model based on the capability’s technical nature, complexity, and criticality for the Agency. In addition, the model approach targets those capabilities that need (a) greater coordination and alignment across Mission Directorates and Centers, and (b) an integrated strategy toward advancement for future Agency objectives.
Agency Technical (Discipline) Capabilities are defined by the current discipline categories established through the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC). Currently, each technical discipline is led by a NASA Technical Fellow, with support from an associated Technical Discipline Team that includes membership from across Centers. As established by the Capability Leadership Model, the Technical Fellow’s roles will expand to encompass capability leadership roles.
The Office of Chief Engineer will provide the integration and administration for the Discipline-related Technical Capabilities. The Engineering Management Board will be engaged to provide a “sound engineering” check and balance across all Technical Capability areas.
Engineering Policy and Standards
The Engineering Policy and Standards function comprises the Standards Program, System Engineering, and Software Engineering.
The NASA Technical Standards Program (NTSP) is sponsored by the NASA Chief Engineer. The Program’s primary mission is to enhance the Agency’s engineering capabilities and promote mission success by supporting NASA participation in the development of voluntary consensus standards and other Government agency standards to meet NASA’s needs and developing NASA technical standards when existing technical standards do not meet or cannot be adapted to meet NASA’s needs (refer to NPR 7120.10, Technical Standards for NASA Programs and Projects). The value of provided technical standards is enhanced by integrating lessons learned, application notes, and the Standards Update Notification System.
The NASA Standards and Technical Assistance Resource Tool (START) provides access to standards from over 100 standards-developing organizations, including DoD and NASA. Communicating and sharing past scientific and technical experiences are crucial to the Agency’s continued success; specific experiences relative to technical standards are documented as lessons learned and application notes in START. Because changes to technical standards can have major impacts on the safety, performance, reliability, and cost of NASA’s programs and projects, the Standards Update Notification System notifies specific users when registered technical standards change.
The NASA HQ Office of Chief Engineer (OCE) maintains responsibility for ownership of the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7123.1B, NASA Systems Engineering Process and Requirements. The purpose of the document is to “clearly articulate and establish the requirements on the implementing organization for performing systems engineering.” Ownership responsibilities include Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) for Agency-level policy and guidance, in addition to leadership of planned and unplanned revisions.
In addition to the NPR, HQ OCE maintains responsibility for the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook (SP-6105), which provides process guidance and best practices. Additionally, HQ OCE also conducts and administers yearly Systems Engineering Technical Excellence Awards and conducts annual surveys of systems engineering implementations at the field centers.
Software engineering is a core capability and a key enabling technology necessary for the support of NASA’s Enterprises. In coordination with Center software engineering improvement activities, the OCE defined a NASA-wide comprehensive approach for improving software engineering to quantifiable maturity levels commensurate with mission criticality to meet the software challenges of NASA.
The OCE advances NASA’s software engineering practices through:
- Development of software engineering and software management policy, requirements and guidelines,
- Communicating policy and processes to the engineering and program/project community.
- Office of Safety and Mission Software Assurance coordination.
- Improving software reliability on NASA Missions
- Improving the software quality on NASA Missions
- Continuous process and product improvement,
- Software engineering metrics,
- Reducing the cost of software for NASA Missions,
- Infusion of software engineering research and technology,
- Enhancing software engineering workforce knowledge and skills,
- Establishing a support system to ensure greater project success through better software engineering and software management.
The directive listed below describes the policy requirements by which NASA formulates and implements software engineering. Companion standards and handbooks further explain how NASA develops and manages software engineering activities for safe development and operation of NASA missions. This software management system is intended to be flexible, adaptable, and tailorable to the many types of programs and projects that NASA manages.
NASA Policy Directives (NPDs) and NPRs govern the policies, process and requirements for each NASA program/project, including specific software engineering requirements. In addition to this document, other mechanisms are used to effectively manage software engineering such as common training and feedback from programs/projects. The NASA Software Program Executive and the NASA Software Working Group (SWG) are responsible for establishing the software engineering processes and training required to manage and produce software vital to the success of NASA’s missions.
The Mission Resilience and Protection Program (MRPP) supports the NASA Chief Engineer in protecting NASA’s civil space systems (and associated support infrastructure/capabilities) from malicious or intentional acts. Read more
Engineering Management Board
- Provides guidance for development, coordination, review, assessment, and deployment of Agency engineering activities related to policies, standards, methods, capabilities, and training.
- Serves as a focus for continual improvement of engineering activities within NASA through the continuous capture, dissemination, and utilization of corporate knowledge gleaned through internal Agency activities, as well as through benchmarking activities of external organizations.
Annually reviews and provides input to the Office of the Chief Engineer’s Functional Leadership Plan, including definition of related technical metrics. It will also periodically assess the status of existing programs sponsored by the Office of the Chief Engineer and make recommendations on objectives, scope, approach, and related items.
May charter ad hoc working groups, as needed, to guide Agency-wide policy and approach in specific technical areas. The EMB will periodically (at least annually) assess its progress and approve its continuance, if appropriate.
Serves as an advocate and focal point for support to independent technical reviews of NASA programs, technology, and advanced development activities as requested by the Administrator, the Program Management Council, or the NASA Chief Engineer.
Mission Resilience and Protection Program
Formerly known as Space Asset Protection
The space environment is increasingly competitive, congested, and contested. Since the beginning of the space age, the number of active space systems continues to rise quickly. More nation-states are actively deploying new space systems, and the commercial space industry is deploying even more. The benefits of these space-based capabilities are widespread, as is dependence on their success. Any denial, disruption, or destruction of these space capabilities can have significant impacts to nation-states, industry, and individuals. U.S. National Space policy and related guidance prioritizes efforts to safeguard U.S.-sourced space systems from harm.
The Mission Resilience and Protection Program (MRPP) supports the NASA Chief Engineer in protecting NASA’s civil space systems (and associated support infrastructure/capabilities) from malicious or intentional acts. The MRPP provides support to NASA’s spaceflight missions in identifying and implementing various protection measures to withstand or recover from adverse conditions such as intrusion, subversion, disruption, degradation or destruction from environmental or malicious causes. Threats posing risk to individual spaceflight missions are identified as early as possible, with mitigations integrated with the mission design and operations model. NASA missions benefit from carefully selected protection measures that enhance the mission’s opportunity to avoid impacts from malicious or careless acts.
NASA employees and contractors seeking more information about the Mission Resilience and Protection Program should visit https://nen.nasa.gov/web/sap (NASA Internal)