NASA Outlines Space Tech Investment Plan
Strategic Space Technology Investment Plan details NASA's development priorities for the next four years.
The plan, which is posted on NASA's website, calls for "technology development activities that will rapidly produce critical needed capabilities that have the potential to revolutionize the way we explore, discover and work in space." It dates back to 2010, when NASA drafted its Space Technology Roadmaps, which included 14 plans for developing technologies in 14 key areas over the next 20 years. The National Research Council was asked to review the roadmaps and released its final recommendations in 2012.
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SSTIP focuses on three levels of investment: core, adjacent and complementary.
Core technologies will comprise approximately 70% of the agency's portfolio. These will be near-term technology investments in eight mission-specific technologies, which are:
-- Launch And In-space Propulsion: NASA will invest in chemical propulsion systems and developing new non-chemical propulsion technologies, such as electric propulsion and solar sails, to enable more efficient and affordable space travel.
-- High Data Rate Communications: Potential investments include space aperture arraying for radio-frequency communications and optical terminals for deep space missions.
[ Will sequestration affect NASA's plans? See Federal CIO Details Concerns On Looming Budget Cuts. ]
-- Lightweight Space Structures And Materials: Investments in lightweight materials and composite structures could potentially reduce the weight of launch vehicles, payloads, surface systems and space structures.
-- Robotics And Autonomous Systems: Investments will focus on autonomous crew operations, autonomous vehicle systems management, autonomous rendezvous and docking, and autonomous robotics.
-- Environmental Control And Life Support System: The integration of microbial-plant systems and life support systems could lead to advancements in air and water purification, waste processing and crew nutrition for enhanced human space exploration.
-- Space Radiation Mitigation: NASA's main goal for investing in space radiation mitigation technologies is to improve crew safety, thus prolonging the duration of missions.
-- Scientific Instruments And Sensors: This will involve the development of remote sensing instruments and sensors with high efficiency, high resolution, improved durability and reduced cost and weight.
-- Entry, Descent And Landing: Advancements in EDL technologies, including thermal protection systems and other components, are necessary for safely landing aircraft on planets and returning to Earth.
Adjacent technologies are also high priority, though comprising only approximately 20% of the portfolio. However, their development may take more time than core technologies, which are highest on NRC's priority list. Examples include power generation and thermal control systems.
Complementary investments are the residual space technologies outlined in the Space Technology Roadmaps, and make up the remaining 10%. Some information technologies, such as intelligent data understanding, are considered complementary.
SSTIP is part of a new direction for NASA announced by President Obama and Congress in 2010. It's based on a four-pillar system of goals for space technology investments that would potentially benefit NASA's key stakeholders, other U.S. government agencies, the private sector and the economy.
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