NASA Research Announcement Solicitation Pre-proposal Briefing

Wednesday, 8 July 2009
12:30 pm - 3:30 pm Eastern (9:30 - 12:30 Pacific)

An informational workshop was held July 8, 2009, 12:30 - 3:30 EDT to assist proposers in understanding the capabilities and practices of the available ExEP technology testbed resources. Guidance was also provided for developing quantitative, practical technology milestones for proposed tasks. The workshop was conducted remotely via telecon with briefing charts available via WebEx. The charts presented during the telecon are available through the links in the following Agenda.

Start Wednesday, 8 July 2009 Speaker
12:30 PM 0:10 Welcome and logistics Peter Lawson
12:40 PM 0:20 Purpose and Scope of TDEM NRA Douglas Hudgins
1:00 PM 0:30 Technology Milestones Lawson / Levine
1:30 PM 0:30 JPL Infrastructure for Technology demonstrations, Part 1 Peter Lawson
2:00 PM 0:30 JPL Infrastructure for Technology demonstrations, Part 2 Marie Levine
2:30 PM 1:00 Q & A
3:30 PM 0:00 Adjourn

Questions and Answers from the meeting are recorded further down this page. Please send additional questions or inquiries to Douglas Hudgins at

NSPIRES Solicitation

Investigations are solicited that will undertake focused technology development addressing specific technologies that feed into key exoplanet exploration measurement techniques. The measurement techniques upon which future ExEP missions are likely to be based include astrometry, coronagraphy, interferometry, and precision photometry. This program is not intended to support basic research but instead supports the maturation of key technologies that have already been shown to be feasible.

The focus of the TDEM program is more precisely described in terms of the "Technology Readiness Level," or TRL, of the technologies involved. NASA uses a 9-level classification system to rate the readiness of a particular technology for use in a space flight mission. The various TRL levels are identified and defined in Table D.11.1 below. TRL levels 1-3 are generally considered to be basic research on new technologies, while TRL levels 7-9 correspond to the development of flight hardware. The TRL definitions are summarized in Table D.11.1 and are articulated in more detail in NASA Procedural Requirement NPR 7120.8 Appendix J.

Table D.11.1. Technology Readiness Levels Summary
TRL 1 Basic principles observed and reported
TRL 2 Technology concept and/or application formulated
TRL 3 Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of concept
TRL 4 Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment
TRL 5 Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment
TRL 6 System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
TRL 7 System prototype demonstration in a space environment
TRL 8 Actual system completed and "flight qualified" through test and demonstration (ground or space)
TRL 9 Actual system "flight proven" through successful mission operations

Funding for low TRL research is typically available through the APRA program, while the funding for high TRL work is provided through the associated flight project. The TDEM program is specifically designed to address the mid-TRL "gap" between TRLs 4 and 6 - maturation of technologies for exoplanet flight instruments that have been established as feasible, but which, as yet, are not sufficiently mature to incorporate into flight hardware without introducing an unacceptable level of risk.

Questions and Answers

Q: If the proposed work does not achieve TRL 6 within the two-year span of the proposal, are you required to show a long-term schedule that would eventually attain that goal?

A: A detailed schedule is only necessary within the two years. It would nonetheless be helpful to outline a general plan for advancing the technology beyond that horizon toward TRL 6.

Q: Supposing an effort falls short of a stated milestone by a small margin. How will that be taken into account in evaluating the work?

A: The final report will describe the progress toward the milestone. The report would detail what you had achieved and the reasons why the projected performance wasn't accomplished. If there was a fundamental obstacle to progress, it is important that it be documented.

Q: Is there an implicit assumption that there would be follow on work?

A: The intent is to have this NRA annually. If an effort doesn't achieve TRL 6 or 7 within the two-year span of the award, then one could re-propose to continue the development process. However, there is no guarantee of renewed funding.

Q: What is the funding level available?

A: There is ~$5.2M available per ROSES call. That funding is intended to cover two years of work. The calls will be repeated every year, each time for ~$5.2M spread across a two-year horizon. So, for any call there is a total available of about $2.6M per year. If there are 5-10 awards per call, that would be roughly $250k to $500k per award.

Q: Is there some performance threshold for which the use of the High Contrast Imaging Testbed (HCIT) is required?

A: The milestones must stem from the science requirements of a mission. If an experiment would be unable to meet its milestone(s) in the ambient environment in the lab, then a vacuum facility such as the HCIT should be considered. If you would like more information about the HCIT, please contact Marie Levine.

Q: Who will be on the review committee for the proposals? Scientists? Technologists?

A: There will certainly be technologists amongst the reviewers, because that is the nature of the NRA.

Q: There are a lot of things that could be allocated as part of an error budget. For example, we don't have a telescope, we don't know anything about pointing errors. How much needs to be taken into account when formulating a milestone?

A: Your proposed milestone need only deal with a subset of the performance goals described in the overall error budget. However, the goals of the milestone must be relevant and compelling.

Q: Do we really need to tie a milestone to a specific mission? Can it not be generically applicable to a class of missions?

A: If there are four similar missions concepts that might use your technology, you could direct your effort to the least stringent error budget of the least demanding mission. However, your proposal will be judged accordingly.

Q: Supposing a mission uses two different subsystems. If the error budget of one depends on the error budget of the other, how can this be addressed in a proposal?

A: You need to start somewhere with reasonable assumptions in your error budgets, with the understanding that these numbers will eventually be revised based on experimental results and improved modeling. For the proposal, you should explain that your assumptions are reasonable and then defend those assumptions.

Q: Where can I find a good example error budget?

A: An example error budget is given in Chapter 2 of the "Technology Plan for the Terrestrial Planet Finder Coronagraph" (JPL Pub 05-6, 2005) pages 20-27.

Q: The stated goal is to develop technology from TRL 4 through TRL 6. Is it acceptable to propose development from TRL 3 to TRL 4?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the whitepaper have to be in place before the work is started?

A: The writing of the whitepaper and commencement of the work may be conducted in parallel.

Q: When will the work be funded?

A: The awards should be announced in early January 2010 and the funds should arrive about a month afterwards?

Q: Does the Milestone schedule need to be booked into the overall schedule of the two years?

A: No, you can commence your work and write the whitepaper in parallel. If you need to go to the end of the second year to complete your work, you do not have to have the report completed by the end of the second year.

Q: Assuming the resources need to be spent by the end of the second year, would you grant a no-cost extension to complete?

A: Yes.

Q: How many tests can be proposed to use the HCIT?

A: For the HCIT or for any other testbed, realistic time allocations of these limited resources will be taken into account in the final selection of funded proposals. For more scheduling information and the required support to include in your proposal, please contact Marie Levine.

Q: How does one budget for JPL support?

A: Discuss with the JPL point of contact what your needs are likely to be. You will be advised of any hardware costs, if applicable, and a workforce estimate. You will probably not be participating in the general maintenance, but you will be paying for the delta in the labor for your particular application. Your proposal needs to include a budget for activities at your institution, plus hardware procurement costs at JPL and workforce at the testbeds. Funding for JPL workforce will be determined by NASA HQ.

Q: Were questions received prior to this briefing?

A: Yes, but only in the form of "Here is my idea for a proposal - Is it compliant?" Nothing that could be reported as a part of this Q & A.

Q: If there are additional questions who should we address them to?

A: Please address additional questions to Douglas Hudgins, NASA HQ.

Q: Are detectors an allowed category?

A: Yes, but you need to meet the criteria in the proposal. A performance milestone must defined that is tied to the error budget of an exoplanet mission concept.

Q: Did the submitted Notices Of Intent (NOI) meet NASA's expectations?

A: Forty one NOIs were received. Of those, only two or three might not be compliant.

Q: Was an NOI required prior to proposing?

A: An NOI is not required to propose, but we encourage it because it helps us plan for the choice of reviewers.

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