NASA working with the private sector
Cody Miller from eeweb asked about NASA working with private companies and similar trends like that of working with SpaceX.
Rasky told us:
Yeah, I think we are going to see it continue and expand. And I think you may have seen some recent announcements where NASA is working now with Bigelow. There is a Bigelow expandable habitat that is going to be going up on the international space station called Beam. Or was it Bigelow Expansion something Module (EDN Editor Steve Taranovich: It was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module).
Expansion auxiliary module... something to that effect. You are going to see this partnership activity expanding for several reasons. One is that it allows NASA to leverage our resources with resources in the private sector. For example, the capability that SpaceX has put together for essentially 300 million is really what the government put in on the NASA side to put the Falcon 9 and now the Dragon Cargo Carrier in place.
That's a fraction of what would have cost had this been a NASA-led activity. So, what we're seeing is some real cost advantages to getting the needed capabilities in place at a much more affordable price where the industry has the capability to do so. And that's not all areas where these partnerships will work. But where you have sufficient commercial expertise like SpaceX has shown and now Bigelow, and the fact that also orbital scientists with their Antares, being able to partner with these companies to get needed capabilities and services in place, I think is going to be very, very compelling, because you can do it quicker and at a lower price.
And I'd just point out that this model in some ways is not new for NASA. Particularly if you look at the organization which was the precursor for NASA, which was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).
And this was the organization that was set up essentially 100 years ago to help support the budding aviation industry at the time. And worked very, very successfully with our aviation industry to develop a very important business area. Both for national security and commercial purposes. And I think that you can look at the model and the success record that the NACA had from 1915 in its conception to 1958 when Eisenhower formed NASA, NACA had been very successful.
Miller wanted to know if Rasky saw the same level of engineering innovation happening in this private sector model. Rasky responded:
Oh yeah, absolutely, but at different levels. And, this is where, yeah, I think that NASA working collaboratively with private industry will both benefit. What I mean by that, private industry needs to take and harvest really near-term developments and capabilities. They typically have a three- to five-year horizon, where they could put private equity at risk. And so, things that are longer term than that, they can't really put any time into or any resources into. And the government, in contrast, we have the luxury of being able to pursue lower readiness technologies, and longer-term objectives.
And I think that, again, in the government working collaboratively with private industry, they're saying that they do better on near-term projects and applications, and they're saying that the government does better with just longer term, and also what we call broad sweeps.
And broad sweeps are where the government will do a whole range of variations on a particular design, so that you have a good base of information for point design. And this had an impact on the NACA era. There would be studies of propellers, of wing shapes, and various types of control configurations for airplanes. And then, NACA would do very detailed and broad sweeps of different variations and then publish reports that the private plane makers could come in and check specific propeller designs, wing designs for their particular application.
The Beam Store from Suitable Technologies is managed by remote workers from places as diverse as New York and Sydney, Australia. Employees attend to store visitors through Beam Smart Presence Systems (SPSs) from the company. The systems combine mobility and video conferencing and allow people to communicate directly from a remote location via a screen as well as move around as if they are actually in the room.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.