is equipping itself with a flexible strategy to push the development of cross-cutting technologies identified by a National Research Council panel as essential to the space agency’s strategic pursuits, including deep-space human exploration, according to the agency’s chief technologist.
The strategy will allowto adjust to the budget pressures Congress is likely to face as it considers the 2013 budget that President Barack Obama unveils on Feb. 13, according to Mason Peck, who took over the two-year-old chief technology post in January.
The roadmap, “NASA Space Technology Roadmaps and Priorities: Restoring NASA’s Technological Edge and Paving the Way for a New Era in Space,” was requested by Peck’s predecessor, Bobby Braun, to support these pursuits: extending and sustaining human activities beyond low Earth orbit; exploring the evolution of the Solar System and the potential for life elsewhere; and expanding knowledge of the Earth and the universe.
Without a technology push, backed by annual investments in the range of $500 million to $1 billion, NASA is unlikely to make strides in the diverse arenas, according to the NRC assessment that served as the basis for the roadmap (Aerospace DAILY, Feb. 2). Peck echoed the need for the kind of cross-cutting technology push that underpinned the Apollo era rather than a mission-by-mission strategy.
“We are investing strategically to make the most of the limited resources,” Peck says. “If we took a merely stovepipe approach, we would not be able to achieve those missions in the future. But there is more to it than that. When we develop these cross-cutting technologies, they can be game changing: saving mass, power and fuel. They can extend the ability of humans to withstand the space environment, while complementing a wide variety of future missions that NASA takes seriously.”
NASA’s highest-priority needs fall into the areas of radiation mitigation; guidance, navigation and control; in-space nuclear power generation and propulsion; and solar power, the panel concluded. Other needs include fission power generation; entry, descent and landing thermal protection systems; rugged, lightweight materials; regenerative life support; and advanced optics.
The roadmap, structured from the contributions of industry, academia, federal research labs and individual consultants as well as NASA’s experts, already faces a financial challenge.
The agency’s effort to reinvigorate technology development was cut back substantially by Congress for 2012. NASA’s request for $1 billion annually over five years was reduced to $575 million by Congress for 2012.
Without commenting on NASA’s 2013 budget request, Peck said the agency’s overall tech strategy will draw on funds from other directorates, including human exploration and operations and space science.
“The real strength of this NRC report is the prioritization of technologies,” he said. “We can use this as a tool to understand how best to leverage the resources we currently have and end up having in 2013. It provides us with flexibility and the means to respond, regardless of the environment we are in.”