Steve Gaddis runs the newly created Game Changing Technology Development Program Office. Gaddis leads the program’s efforts to develop innovative technologies that will revolutionize space exploration.
NASA Tech Briefs: What are we talking about when we say “Game Changing Technology Development?”
Steve Gaddis: That’s a question that we get asked a lot. The program is one of ten programs within OCT, the Office of the Chief Technologist. In OCT, they have the Space Technology Program (STP), which is being managed by Mike Gazarik and James Reuther.
When we say “Game Changing Technology,” we’re looking for orders-of-magnitude impact in technology development. We’re looking for cross-cutting infusion technologies that can be used in more than one place. We’re looking for transformative technologies. We’re looking for aggressive schedules and short development cycles (two or three years); fifty percent improvement in performance; and fifty percent or more reduction in manufacturing costs or lead times.
We’re also trying to revolutionize the way we do business at NASA. A lot of times it takes several years to get something rolling at NASA. We want to be able to say, “This one’s not panning out. It’s not meeting the metrics,” so we pull the plug, if you will, and take that money and reinvest into another “new start.”
All of these align with agency priorities or any agency partners. We want to have a streamlined business model. We want to have accountability through what we call Continuation Reviews. Periodically through the year, the program steps in with our principal investigator, and we see: Are we really in the direction we want to go? Is the project making adequate progress? Is the technology maturation happening? So we have the ability to make those decisions somewhat quickly. And as you might suspect, we can have some breakthroughs in two or three years and have agreements with projects such as the Orion Capsule or the Space Launch System (SLS), or other government agencies like Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to have onramps into some of their systems. In essence, we want to investigate approaches to revolutionizing space exploration.
NTB: You mentioned “pulling the plug.” What are the criteria for pulling the plug, or deciding that a project has run its course?
Gaddis: We’re a high risk/high payoff program. We come in with a pretty tall order. Someone says, “Hey, we can do this in two years. Here are the performance metrics and the key performance parameters. And here are the actual thresholds that we’re trying to meet.” So we’re monitoring progress.
Each one of our activities has an overseer, somebody we call the GCD [Game Changing Development] principal investigator (PI). It’s very analogous to a DARPA PM [Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Project Manager]. And this PI is monitoring the progress, and the certain Continuous Reviews. They step in and get the level of insight into that activity. They have to make a technological, strategic call, or weigh in on some of the programmatics. If these folks are on track to meeting their technical objectives, then we allow them to continue. If it looks like they’re just not going to get there, there’s no reason to say, “Ok, for the next two years, we’re going to let this run out.” We do an orderly shutdown of a month or so. All the participants understand that this is the governance model that we’re operating in. So we take those funds, and we already have a stack of potential “new start” activities that need investment.