Braun Outlines Technology Plans, Including Reestablishing NIAC

Braun Outlines Technology Plans, Including Reestablishing NIAC

In presentations to the National Research Council (NRC) and the American Astronautical Society’s (AAS) Goddard Memorial Symposium this week, Dr. Robert (“Bobby”) Braun, NASA’s new Chief Technologist, outlined plans for his new office. Braun is a highly respected space technologist from Georgia Tech who started his career at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

In his presentation to the NRC’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) on Tuesday and later in the week to AAS, Braun talked about the need to conduct research on low TRL (Technology Readiness Level) technologies. NASA’s low TRL efforts have suffered in recent years because of budget constraints. Reestablishing the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is one step in that direction, he said. Braun co-chaired a 2009 NRC study on why the original NIAC was dissolved in 2007 and whether the research conducted under its auspices had been worthwhile.

The report, Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, found that NIAC was “effective in achieving its mission and accomplishing its stated goals” and recommended creating a NIAC2 to “seek out visionary, far-reaching, advanced concepts with the potential of significant benefit to accomplishing NASA’s charter and to begin the process of maturing these advanced concepts for infusion into NASA’s missions.” The new NIAC would have some differences, according to the report, such as allowing NASA employees to compete for its grants in addition to those outside the agency, and funding grants not only for revolutionary technologies, but for concepts that are “innovative.”

Braun emphasized that he would coordinate technology development efforts across the agency, but would not manage programs funded by the four Mission Directorates. The President’s budget request includes a sizable budget for the Chief Technologist’s office to manage itself on top of those other agency activities. The FY2011 budget request is for $572 million for the Chief Technologist (in a budget line designated Space Technology under “Aeronautics and Space Research and Technology”), rising to over a billion each year for FY2012-2014. All of this is, of course, subject to congressional approval.

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