Competitiveness in the Space Economy

In my blog entry for April 11, 2008, I wrote about the “Space Economy” and the two keys to its success.  My focus was on the first of those keys, innovation, and the way it is enabled by NASA.  Internally, we often refer to NASA-enabled innovation as technology commercialization.

With this entry, I would like to discuss the second key ingredient to economic growth — competitiveness.  U.S. National Space Policy directs NASA to encourage the development of a highly competitive U.S. commercial space industry.  Ideally, this industry would meet NASA’s mission needs in addition to those of non-government customers.  Encouraging the creation of this type of industry is known as commercial development.

NASA is embracing commercial development because a broad and robust commercial space sector will be essential for the U.S. to meet its exploration goals in the long-term.  With the private sector providing goods and services in the near-Earth region, NASA will be able to concentrate on exploration further into space.

To encourage a new commercial space sector, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) developed a Commercial Development Policy in November 2007.  This policy is consistent with guidelines already written into law (P.L. 102-588), by including the following principles:

•    NASA should only encourage commercial space sectors that can fulfill specific mission needs.
•    Procurement of commercially procured good or service must be cost effective.
•    The goods or services must be bought through an open and fair competition.
•    Non-government customers for the good or service must exist.
•    The long-term success of the commercial space sector cannot rely upon long-term Government support.
•    The Government cannot fund the entire venture.

To date, ESMD has adopted this policy and it is being distributed to the rest of NASA offices for review.  The goal is to develop an Agency-wide, NASA Commercial Development Policy before the end of the year.

The ESMD team has made a major effort to solicit input on this policy from as many external sources as possible.  I encourage you to request the ESMD documents from Ken Davidian (  Comments provided to Ken by the end of August will be considered for the final version of the NASA Commercial Development Policy.

Ikhana and the California Wildfires

In response to the ongoing fires in California, NASA continues to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the State of California.  

California Governor Schwarzenegger’s Office of Emergency Services contacted NASA Ames Research Center requesting to use Ikhana, the NASA Predator-B unmanned aircraft, to obtain visible light, infrared and thermal imagery of the California wildfires.  Last year, the imagery provided by Ikhana was able to complement the other tools used by emergency response personnel to effectively allow them to see through the smoke of the 2007 wild fires to monitor and predict the fire’s behavior.  

NASA Predator-B unmanned aircraft Ikhana carries the NASA-developed Autonomous Modular ScannerThe remotely piloted aircraft is carrying the NASA-developed Autonomous Modular Scanner on several planned flights. Originating at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, the flights are covering an area from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border. The sensor, its telemetry and real-time data processing were developed by NASA Ames. The sensor, carried in an external pod under the aircraft’s wing, detects temperature differences from less than one-half degree to approximately 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, revealing fire hotspots.

In Ikhana’s first flight on July 8, the aircraft flew over 10 individual or complex fires along a route over the Sierra Nevadas, west to the Cub Complex fire in Northern California and south to the Gap Fire in Santa Barbara County.  Currently there are more than 300 wildfires burning in the state. 

California wildfires imaged by scanner onboard the Ikhana unmanned aircraft, then superimposed over ground mapsOnce the images are collected onboard Ikhana, they are then transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames where the imagery is superimposed over ground maps to better visualize the location and scope of the fires.

From a ground control center, NASA pilots command the Ikhana aircraft in close coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is allowing the aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining safe separation from other aircraft. The imagery is then transmitted to the Multi-Agency Coordination Center in Redding, California, and the State Operations Center in Sacramento, within minutes of acquisition, which distributes it to incident commanders in the field.

The Science Mission Directorate funded development of the fire sensor with the intention of having the capabilities transition to operational agencies in the near future. By transitioning this technology to operational agencies the benefits of this research and development effort can support the entire national wildfire fighting efforts.

More images are at:

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Image of NASA booth and DC Mall at Folklife Festival

Last week marked the opening of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. held at the National Mall. (see image at left)  This year, NASA, the State of Texas and the Kingdom of Bhutan are the honorees. The Folklife Festival is held for ten days June 25 – 29, and July 2-6, is free to the public and typically attracts more than one million visitors.







Image of the Prince of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel on the Moonbuggy

Image at left is  the Prince of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel on a NASA Moonbuggy

NASA: Fifty Years and Beyond will showcase the role that the men and women of NASA have played in broadening the horizons of American science and culture, as well as the role that they will continue to play in helping to shape the future by stirring the public imagination.

The NASA program includes presentations, hands-on educational activities, demonstrations of skills, techniques, and knowledge, narrative “oral history” sessions, and exhibits that will explore the spirit of innovation, discovery, and service embodied by the Agency. We have over 500 volunteer representatives that include astronomers, astronauts, astrophysicists, scientists, engineers, and other subject matter experts to answer questions from the public. 

The Festival kicked off with several exciting events, including a special advance screening of the Disney Pixar film Wall-E in Washington, D.C., and a special concert of Gustav Holst’s The Planets by the Space Philharmonic, a part of the National Symphony Orchestra, led by Maestro Emil De Cou. The concert, held in the Museum of the American Indian, included imagery from NASA and featured the playing of the new Wall-E theme song.  These special events set the stage for a great week of sharing NASA’s culture, mission and inspiration with tens of thousands of visitors on the Mall.

This week we have more exciting events in store for the more than 100,000 expected visitors per day over the Fourth of July weekend.  Please check out the NASA Folklife Festival activities and schedule at or NASA employees can visit our communications portal at   

Another Exciting Week for NASA Mission Success

 Last week was a great week for missions at NASA.  We successfully launched the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST); Space Shuttle Discovery safely returned with the STS-124 crew; and Phoenix scooped and scraped at the surface of Mars uncovering what may be either ice or salt immediately below the Martian surface.Panorama of Phoenix’s Solar Panel and Robotic Arm


GLAST, a powerful new observatory, was launched to explore the most extreme environments in the Universe.  Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. GLAST data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signs of new physics.  GLAST is a partnership between NASA and the Department of Energy with international contributions from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.  This mission is expected to last five years with a goal of ten years of operation.  GLAST will be working with NASA’s Great Observatory missions (Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope) to provide full-spectrum coverage of the heavens for astrophysicists around the world.  Thanks to the GLAST team for their contribution to the blog.  For more information visit:  


After 14 days in space, Space Shuttle Discovery safely landed after another successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Discovery completed a 5.7 million mile journey that included delivery of the Japanese Science Laboratory known as “Kibo” and picking up Astronaut Garrett Reisman who returned home after 95 days in space – 90 of which were aboard the Station.  There were three spacewalks totaling 20 hours, 32 minutes.  The crews transferred 1,787 pounds of resupply cargo and returned 1,807 pounds of cargo to Earth.  Discovery hauled up and delivered to the ISS 783 pounds of water, 135 pounds of nitrogen, 121 pounds of oxygen and as some would say the most important of all — toilet parts.  

Left behind on the station is the Expedition 17 crew, Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko and Reisman’s replacement, Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who will spend the next five months on the Station until his return home on STS-126.   Welcome home STS-124.


Last week, I had a unique opportunity to travel briefly to Vienna, Austria, to address the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).  An important objective of my visit was to provide the Committee with an overview of NASA’s first 50 years in space, as well as communicate our future plans for space exploration that will encompass a need for global cooperation and partnership.

UNCOPUOS was set up as an ad hoc committee by the General Assembly in 1958, and as a standing committee in 1959, to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programs in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.  UNCOPUOS is comprised of sixty-nine member countries; observer organizations, such as the European Space Agency; and other UN organizations.    
With the Chairman of UNCOPUOS, Dr. Ciro Arevalo-Yepeswith the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Dr. Mazlan Othman  
I also had meetings with the Chairman of UNCOPUOS, Dr. Ciro Arevalo-Yepes (see image above on the left),  the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Dr. Mazlan Othman (see image above on the right) and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Mr. Greg Schulte. 
On a personal note, while I did not participate in any soccer-related events during my trip, it was fun to be in Austria during the ongoing Euro 2008 soccer tournament, which Austria and Switzerland are hosting this year.  During my brief stay, the national team from Austria played the national team from Poland in Vienna and the entire town was alive with excitement surrounding the game.  Fans from both Austria and Poland were walking around town dressed in team colors.  I would like to thank the Office of External Relations for doing a great job with this trip.