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One NASA Idea Continues at JPL

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

Art Murphy points out four framed documents hanging on the wall of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory director's conference room. "The goal is to have JPL and the other centers interact as one NASA," he states. "Where we used to compete with each other we are now working together."

Murphy manages Intercenter Alliance Development at JPL, Pasadena, Calif. He has been working in the spirit of One NASA for the last few years, forging collaborative alliances that proactively look for new initiatives in space research and development. The four documents on the conference room wall illustrate the collaborative agreements he helped develop between JPL and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Back in 2000, specific technology leadership within NASA was consolidated at various centers, with little overlap. Murphy was managing Space Mission Technology Development at the time at JPL. Looking at the changes going on within the agency he realized that it would be very difficult to develop mission-needed technology in this new environment. There were also more pressures on JPL to not do everything itself. In addition, revolutionary technology infusion was being demanded in JPL missions at no greater overall risk or cost. He saw a need to start collaborating with other centers in order to develop the needed complete technology package for JPL missions.

Murphy identified LaRC, ARC, GRC and MSFC as the centers with the best immediate potential for joint activities with JPL. His idea was to build an interdependent relationship with each of these centers to use their research and technology development capabilities in JPL's space and Earth science flight missions. He put together a proposal and, on January 24, 2001, he met with the JPL Executive Council. If JPL more actively collaborated with these centers to do research and development for technology it would enable JPL to do better science. The EC was sold.

Murphy was asked to establish these four collaborative alliances. LaRC signed the first alliance agreement on February 21, 2002. The other agreements were finalized by the end of that year. These alliances require minimal formal reporting. "This is a center grass roots up effort to show that centers have the right ideas and attitude," Murphy said.

A joint center review is held approximately every six months for each alliance. The last one was held at JPL with Ames on January 23, 2003.

"Our relationship with Ames has improved an order of magnitude!" Murphy remarked. "Our relationships are also much better with Langley, Glenn and Marshall. We are working together like we didn't always do in the past. In some ways the only time we saw another center then was when we competed for technology work against them. The center directors have been magnificent, very positive about working together."

Currently, Ames is funding approximately 80 JPL engineers and scientists on various technical tasks that compliment ARC's expertise in the engineering of complex systems, mission autonomy systems, information technology and bio-nanotechnology. ARC will have planning and visualization software technology on both JPL's Mars Exploration Rover ground operations activities. ARC gets to use its technology on JPL missions and receives strong advocacy for its new technology initiatives. Its technology, in turn, saves JPL the cost of many ground mission engineers.

These alliances are paving the way for future missions such as Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter by providing technology for them. They will continue to pay off in developing research and development technology for future missions that are about five to 15, or more, years out. Murphy reflects, "The future is enabled by the present. The future of space is complicated. One center can't be all things to all people like it used to be. We have to be able to depend on other organizations, work with them, nourish them and treat them as we do ourselves. JPL can't maintain the core technology competencies for everything so we have to go to other centers for them. We need to have strong relations with them so we can count on them as team members and work with them to do our missions."

JPL's director, Charles Elachi, summed up the importance of these efforts. "I believe we owe it to American taxpayers to be as efficient as possible in developing these potentially high-payoff, bold missions, by using the best technologies from all NASA centers to generate the most exciting and productive science possible," Elachi said. "I'm pleased that our alliances contribute to the One NASA initiative, and I'm grateful to Art Murphy and his colleagues at our partner centers for being so persistent and effective in constructing these alliances."

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