NASA Names Vogel New Head of Space Technology

NASA Names Vogel New Head of Space Technology

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has chosen Kurt Vogel to be the new head of the Space Technology Mission Directorate. Vogel is relatively new to NASA, but had a long career in the Air Force and national security space before joining the agency in 2021. He takes over from Jim Reuter who retired last year.

Kurt “Spuds” Vogel, NASA Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Vogel, who goes by “Spuds,” has been working in the Administrator’s office as director of space architectures since July 21, 2021.  He now will be in charge of one of NASA’s five programmatic mission directorates, the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), with a budget of about $1.2 billion.

During his 34-year government career before joining NASA, Vogel served 21 years in the Air Force, led research and development efforts at the Air Force Research Lab’s Systems Technology Office, served as acting chief technologist for the National Reconnaissance Office’s Survivability Assurance Office, and most recently managed a classified portfolio of programs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

He has a B.S. in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in astronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Vogel has been deeply involved in developing the architecture for NASA’s Moon to Mars program. That certainly requires development of new technologies, although STMD’s role is broader.

STMD was created in 2013 during the Obama Administration to develop “cross-cutting, advanced and pioneering new technologies” that could be used by various NASA missions and others in the aerospace sector, rather than mission-directed research and development for a specific purpose. The Trump Administration tried to abolish it in the FY2019 budget request, eliminating some of its work and merging the rest into the Moon to Mars program. Congress rejected the proposal and subsequently reiterated its support for a separate directorate for space technology.

Several space technology development programs of interest to specific members of Congress are included in STMD’s budget such as nuclear thermal and nuclear electric propulsion, and on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing (OSAM). STMD also provides small amounts of funding for visionary ideas through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program and to assist industry through Tipping Point partnerships for development of commercial space capabilities that can benefit future NASA missions. The companies have to provide at least 25 percent of the funding for a Tipping Point award (10 percent if they have 500 or fewer employees).

STMD also pays for and oversees NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) expenditures. Federal agencies with extramural research and development budgets over $100 million must allocate a certain percentage of their R&D budgets to SBIR/STTR.

Vogel’s appointment as STMD Associate Administrator (AA) is effective immediately. Prasun Desai, who has been serving as acting AA, will resume his position as deputy AA.

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